Planned Trump Summit With North Korea Hits Roadblock

May 18, 2018
Originally published on May 18, 2018 10:27 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

North Korea seems to be having some second thoughts about meeting with President Trump next month, and Trump's national security adviser could be to blame here. In a recent CBS interview, John Bolton said that Libya's disarmament could serve as a model for North Korea. But here's the thing - several years after the U.S. persuaded Libya to give up its program - nuclear program in 2003, the government was toppled, and its leader, Moammar Gadhafi, was brutally killed by rebel forces. At the time, Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, and she definitely wasn't mad about that.

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HILLARY CLINTON: We came. We saw. He died.

GREENE: OK. So yesterday, President Trump tried to dismiss that Libya analogy, effectively contradicting his national security adviser.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Libyan model isn't a model that we have at all when we're thinking of North Korea. In Libya, we decimated that country. That country was decimated. There was no deal to keep Gadhafi.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Scott Horsley covers the White House and has been following these seemingly different messages. Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what is going on here as this meeting approaches?

HORSLEY: Well, it's hard to see John Bolton's comments as anything more than a pretext for North Korea's abrupt reversal this week on the upcoming nuclear summit. You know, Bolton made those comments on CBS several weeks ago back before Secretary of State Pompeo made his most recent trip to Pyongyang, before North Korea agreed to release those Americans that had been held prisoner. So if the cold feet that we're seeing from North Korea is a reaction to Bolton's comments, it's certainly a delayed reaction. And, you know, what's more, Kim Jong Un hardly needed John Bolton to remind him about what had happened to Moammar Gadhafi. He knows that history all too well, and it's one reason that many folks have been skeptical that Kim would in fact be willing to give up his nuclear weapons.

GREENE: Although remind us about what exactly Bolton and the president are talking about when it comes to Libya because Bolton was talking about disarmament, not necessarily what happened to Gadhafi. But then the president brings up Gadhafi. Can you help us understand this?

HORSLEY: Right. The president seemed to interpret the Libya model, when he was asked about that yesterday, as the overthrow of Gadhafi in 2011. That is not what John Bolton was talking about as the Libya model. He was talking about what happened eight years earlier, when Gadhafi did agree to completely abandon his nuclear program. Now to be sure, that nuclear program was far less advanced in Libya in 2003 than what we see in North Korea today. But in exchange, Libya was welcomed back into the international community. It was the beneficiary of a lot of international investment. Libya even got a temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Bolton had been at the center of that effort. He was a State Department official at the time. And it was considered a success for a number of years. It was only a good deal later when Gadhafi threatened to massacre his own people that the U.S. and other countries then stepped in and - overthrow the Libyan leader. Now, certainly, there - one can argue that had Gadhafi not given up his nukes, he would not have been as vulnerable to that attack, and that's certainly something that's probably weighing on Kim Jong Un's mind.

GREENE: So the big question - is this summit going to happen or not?

HORSLEY: The White House, for now, is proceeding as if it is on. They say they've gotten no official word that North Korea wants to back out. The President talked yesterday about ongoing discussions of logistics and, you know, the shape of the table, that sort of thing. So for now, at least, the president is proceeding as if this summit is going to happen.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.