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After cancelling his June 12th summit with Kim Jong-un, President Trump now says talks are still possible. We speak to journalist Tim Shorrock about North Korea’s overlooked and misunderstood concerns and how Mike Pence and John Bolton stand in the way of peace

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AARON MATE: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

One day after cancelling his June 12 summit with North Korea, President Trump says dialogue has now reopened and the meeting could be back on. .

DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to see what happens. We’re talking to them now. It was a very nice statement they put out. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see what happens. It could even be the 12th. We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it. We’re going to see what happens.

AARON MATE: When Trump canceled the meeting on Thursday, he threatened military force and blamed North Korea for, quote, tremendous anger and open hostility. He was presumably referring to a North Korean official calling remarks by Vice President Mike Pence, quote, ignorant and stupid. In recent weeks, both Pence and Trump have said the U.S. may follow the Libyan model in North Korea; the model of basically overthrowing the government and killing its leader, even after making a deal with it.

Well, joining me is Tim Shorrock, correspondent for the Nation, whose blog Dispatch Korea is available at Welcome, Tim. If you can help us make sense of what’s happened in the last 48 hours. Just before Trump canceled the meeting on Thursday, you had North Korea claiming that it had destroyed one of its nuclear test sites. Then Trump goes ahead and cancels the meeting, now says today that it could be back on.

TIM SHORROCK: I think probably from what I’ve been able to put together from just reading the detailed stories in the press that have appeared, including the Washington Post and NBC, who both really did some close analysis of the events, it looked like this was a Bolton intervention, John Bolton, the national security adviser. You know, who has been, who has been saying, talking about the Libya option, so-called, all along. And so apparently, you know, when this statement came out from [name inaudible], one of the, deputy foreign minister of North Korea that appeared on the North Korean state media KCNA, blasting Vice President Pence for basically repeating Bolton’s pitch for a Libya-type solution to North Korea. You know, Bolton immediately came in to Trump and said, look what this nasty thing this woman is saying about us in North Korea. And apparently this set, you know, Trump into some big tantrum, and he dictated this letter to Bolton to send to Kim Jong-un, and just cancel the whole thing.

The odd thing was, in the room where he made this decision, Gen. Mattis, the secretary of defense, wasn’t there. And as you said, in the letter he actually, you know, sort of threatened a nuclear strike on North Korea if they didn’t follow along. And so it’s very odd to threaten another country with military action when you don’t even have your secretary of defense there to consult with. So the whole thing seems to be very badly organized, incompetent. But it really seems like, you know, John Bolton and Vice President Pence are trying their best to steer Trump away from actually, you know, reaching some kind of peace agreement with Kim Jong-un.

AARON MATE: And surely, Tim, or at least it’s quite likely, I think, to say that Pence and Bolton must have known what the reaction would have been in North Korea in openly threatening to follow a model that results in the leader being killed. And on that front, let me play for you what Trump said yesterday in his speech, and that’s in the cancellation. He talked again about using military force.

DONALD TRUMP: I’ve spoken to Gen. Mattis and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and our military, which is by far the most powerful anywhere in the world, that has been greatly enhanced recently, as you all know, is ready if necessary. Likewise, I’ve spoken to South Korea and Japan, and they are not only ready should foolish or reckless acts be taken by North Korea, but they are willing to shoulder much of the cost of any financial burden, any of the costs associated by the United States in operations, if such an unfortunate situation is forced upon us.

AARON MATE: That’s President Trump speaking on Thursday, announcing his cancellation of the North Korean summit in Singapore on June 12. So, Tim, a few things, there. If you can comment on what he says. He claims to have spoken to Mattis, and also to Japan and South Korea, about using military force against North Korea. And just following up on what we’re talking about before the clip we played, do you think that Pence and Bolton made those remarks about the Libya model knowing the result would be a North Korea response that would, that Trump could then use as a pretext to cancel the meeting?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, on the Libya thing, yes, clearly. I mean, Bolton has been talking about this for some time. You know, when you, when you look at what he’s been proposing, there’s sort of two elements to the so-called Libya option. One, of course, is what happened when they negotiated with Gaddafi to get rid of his nuclear weapons. He did not receive any kind of economic benefits or political benefits until he did get rid of his nuclear, nuclear program. So that was one part that, that Bolton was trying to push forward. You know, this idea that North Korea gets nothing until they basically surrender everything. And that’s one part. And then of course the second part is what happened to Libya after they did give up that nuclear weapons, which was they were decimated, as Trump said. And of course both of these, both of these proposals are, are anathema to North Korea, and they explain why in their communications to the United States through their state media.

And you know, first of all, they’re not going to just sit there, and they’re not going to surrender before, you know, that they’re not going to surrender without any kind of security guarantees from the United States or any kind of normalization of ties, or anything. They’re not going to give it all up just for some kind of vague promise from the United States. It’s got to be negotiated step by step, movement toward, you know, peace, peace agreement. And then, you know, thinking about getting rid of their nuclear program once they have these kind of guarantees. So you know, that, that’s what they objected to. And I think that, you know, it’s no surprise that they would come back. And it’s, surely Pence understood the implications of what he was saying by endorsing Bolton like that.

AARON MATE: In terms of Trump saying that he’s spoken to Japan and South Korea and that they’re ready to shoulder the cost of what was, he was clearly floating as a military attack?

TIM SHORROCK: OK, there’s several ways you can unpack that statement. First of all, I was really surprised to hear him say, you know, he’d been talking to Japan about this, because Japan is not part of these negotiations right now. Abe, the leader of Japan, the prime minister is a hawk. He’s been pressing, you know, the maximum pressure campaign, you know, for Trump. And what, what certain elements of the U.S. power structure, national security, want very badly is to have a military security alliance between the United States, Japan, and South Korea. And there’s a lot of resistance to this in South Korea. In fact, President Moon Jae-in has actually rejected this idea of a three-way military alliance.

So it’s a little bit strange that, you know, Trump is still kind of pushing this idea which he knows very well, or perhaps he doesn’t know, but his advisers certainly know, South Korea is not in favor of. And so I wouldn’t really take what he said there with, you know, lots of grains of salt, because I don’t think this has anything to do with, like, planning over the next few weeks or months. I just think he’s something, he’s blabbing to, to sort of try to reassure his supporters in the public, or the American public, that, you know, we’re going to be protected if North Korea does anything. But I thought that was very odd that he would you know bring that up.

And you know, the thing is, like, one of the, one of the incidents that happened that raised North Korean attention, and got them very angry and that they wrote about was, as you know, there was these military air, Air Force exercises that were announced, and the U.S. and South Korea embarked on, about a week ago. And you know, before this process was unfolding, like a few months ago when the Kim government was talking to the Moon government, Kim Jong-un made it known that he would not oppose U.S.-South Korean military exercises if they were like normal exercises. And by that he meant, and it was understood by the South Korean side, he meant that they would not include strategic weapons like B-52 bombers, F22 fighter jets, advanced fighter jets that can, that can all carry nuclear weapons. So that was out for like, as far as Kim went, that was, that was out of bounds if they started bringing in these kind of strategic weapons. And that, and that is exactly what they did during these exercises. The U.S. decided to have B-52s flying in them. And it was an exercise that also involved Japan.

So it was a very provocative kind of move to bring in these B-52s and having them flying with, you know, Japanese fighters as well as South Korean fighters. And that was one of the initial, on I think it was May 16, that was one of the initial missives that the North Korean high ranking negotiator sent out. And first, the first message that really caught U.S. attention. And he said, you know, you’re bringing in these advanced weapons, and that’s, and you said South Korea, this is a violation of our [inaudible] declaration they made on April 27. And that was when, it was because of those exercises that North Korea canceled their next meeting with South Korea, and actually threatened to withdraw from the Trump-Kim summit.

So this whole issue of, you know, South Korean, Japanese military and U.S. military exercises is a very sensitive and touchy one, and one that, you know, I think that part of it’s part of the whole negotiation that North Korea wants to do, because they want to get rid of that. They want to defuse that military threat to them.

AARON MATE: And these exercises, where the U.S. flies B-52s, and that basically simulates the flights that would carry out a nuclear strike, they’ve been going on for many years now, right? And didn’t even the U.S. back down, ultimately, when North Korea-.

TIM SHORROCK: Yes they did. And actually about a day or two, a day or two after the North Koreans objected, the Pentagon, through the Pacific Command, let it be known that the B-52s were not going to be included. And then the South Korean defense ministry made a, made the same kind of statement, and said these exercises are training, and the B-52s don’t belong in that training. But one of Moon’s top advisers gave an interview to a Korean newspaper, and he said that it was not the South Koreans that asked for the B-52s, which raised the issue, it must have been the Pentagon, it must have been the U.S. So why is the U.S. sending these provocative warplanes at such a sensitive time?

I mean, when you put all this together, the North Korean objections to what Trump and his people were doing, you know, makes much more sense. .

AARON MATE: Well, exactly. And you have to wonder if someone like Bolton was both responsible for pushing for the B-52s, and we also have to wonder if he was unnerved and upset when that got scaled back, which may have triggered the situation that we’re in today. But on this note, we will pause here and come back in Part 2. My guest is Tim Shorrock, correspondent for the Nation. His blog Dispatch Korea is available at

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Tim Shorrock is a Washington-based journalist who spent part of his youth in South Korea and has been writing about North and South Korea since the late 1970s. He just returned from a two month stay in Gwangju, South Korea, where during the Korean president campaign he interviewed South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In. He writes about US-Korea relations for The Nation and the Korea Center for Investigative Reporting.