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Pompeo Talks To North Korea's Neighbors About Trump-Kim Summit


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with leaders in South Korea and China today. He's briefing them on the agreement reached between President Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore earlier this week. Let's turn now to NPR's Rob Schmitz, who is in Shanghai to talk about this. Hi there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Pretty long day for Pompeo. He starts in Seoul. He's on to Beijing. How much of these talks is about explaining what President Trump tweeted when he landed back in the United States, saying that the nuclear threat from North Korea is now gone?

SCHMITZ: I think that pretty much encompassed his whole day. Pompeo seemed to take a more hard line, more sober approach than his boss did. When he addressed Trump's conclusion over Twitter that the North was no longer a nuclear threat, Pompeo engaged in a little damage control, saying Trump made the claim with his eyes wide open, he said, emphasizing that economic sanctions on North Korea will remain until the North rids itself of nuclear weapons. Pompeo also clarified another Trump claim, saying that if the North stops negotiating in good faith, the joint military exercises off the Korean Peninsula that Trump said he'd put on hold would, in fact, resume.

GREENE: OK. So that is some of the message that he was delivering, I guess, in Seoul first, where he's meeting with officials from both South Korea and Japan. Now, he's flown to China, where you are. And this is so interesting because a lot of people have looked at this summit with North Korea and said that really what is the larger thing to look at is the U.S.-Chinese relationship. So these meetings have to be kind of crucial.

SCHMITZ: That's right. And this is where it gets a little more interesting because China has already done a lot of work to help the U.S. pressure North Korea to denuclearize. Yet the Trump administration is on the verge of imposing some pretty hefty tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports as early as tomorrow. Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, mentioned the trade friction in the press conference he had with Pompeo. And here's what he said through an interpreter.


WANG YI: (Through interpreter) We have two options. One is cooperation and one with outcomes. The second, confrontation and a lose-lose scenario.

SCHMITZ: And, David, take a wild guess which one of these options Wang said China would like to pursue.

GREENE: Yeah, I'm sure, I mean, saying that they want to cooperate, I guess. But for him to actually say that and lay out that it's either win-win or lose-lose with Pompeo standing next to him, that's kind of significant, right?

SCHMITZ: It is. And, you know, he said - you know, China's - or America's trade deficit with China is too high. That's Pompeo who said that. And he said that he hopes Trump will rectify that situation. So if the U.S. does go forward with these tariffs on China - which could happen, I said, as early as tomorrow - China stated today that it would not honor its promise to buy $70 billion worth of American goods.

And it's also possible that Chinese help on North Korea might be put in jeopardy by these tariffs. And that's a big deal because Beijing has already helped President Trump put pressure on North Korea, and it continues to have a lot of sway over Kim Jong Un. And China's help is likely going to be very crucial to ensure that North Korea honors its own commitments that it made this week.

GREENE: Another reminder that nothing happens in a vacuum. All of this - potential trade war could really have an impact on the whole relationship with North Korea, with China. A lot to cover. NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us from Shanghai this morning. Rob, we appreciate it.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.