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Regional Security Is At Stake When Trump Sits Down With North Korea

Jun 7, 2018
Originally published on June 7, 2018 8:16 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If all goes according to plan, history will happen in five days. That's when President Trump is expected to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a face-to-face meeting. There is a lot at stake, including security for countries in the region, which is why Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is here in Washington today. He's meeting with President Trump at the White House, where he will make his case to protect Japan's interests in these negotiations. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: We should just remember here that when North Korea has launched test missiles in the past, sometimes those go over Japan. So this country has a particular interest in what's happening.

LIASSON: They certainly do. They want to see a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, also. And Japan has been a big supporter of this campaign of maximum pressure - putting tough sanctions on North Korea. And they are concerned that Donald Trump is now backing off of that campaign without getting any concessions from North Korea. On Friday, President Trump said he doesn't even want to talk about maximum pressure.

So Japan is concerned that the U.S. could make a deal that addresses U.S. security concerns but undercuts Japanese ones - for instance, getting rid of North Korea's long-range intercontinental missiles that they say could hit the U.S., but a deal that would allow them to keep the shorter-range missiles that could still be a threat to Japan.

MARTIN: Right.

LIASSON: And Japan also wants Donald Trump to bring up the issue of Japanese abductees when he talks to the North Korean leader. So overall, they're looking for a clarification. What is the Trump administration's strategy with North Korea?

MARTIN: I mean, it's all fine and good for them to have a conversation. But does Abe actually have any real leverage over President Trump? I mean, is he likely to get what he wants?

LIASSON: Well, that's a good question because he has spent a lot of time investing in a personal relationship with Donald Trump. He's met with him many times. Just in April, he met with him at Mar-a-Lago. They've golfed together. But you can't say he's gotten a whole lot from it yet. Even before Emmanuel Macron of France was trying to be buddies with Donald Trump, Abe was trying this strategy, but he couldn't even get an exemption for Japan on those steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump has put on U.S. allies.

MARTIN: All right. Another political story to talk about with you this morning, Mara - immigration. We haven't talked about it in a long time, but it is moving. At least, there is some high-profile meetings happening today among House Republicans. What's going on?

LIASSON: Yes. There's going to be a big meeting with all the House Republicans and the leadership. What they're trying to do is hammer out some kind of compromise on immigration. And the leadership's hand is being forced by a group of moderate Republicans aided by Democrats. They have signed something called a discharge petition. This is a mechanism that would allow them to bring an immigration measure to the floor over the objections of Republican leaders - kind of a bipartisan rank-and-file revolt. This is something that Paul Ryan does not want to happen. He talked about this yesterday, and here's what he said.

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PAUL RYAN: I feel good about the kind of conversations we're having. Our members are earnest and sincere in trying to understand each other's perspectives. We have a big swath of views within our conference on this issue, and I really do believe that there's a sweet spot here.

LIASSON: It's hard to imagine what the sweet spot would be if there was a sweet spot on immigration.

MARTIN: Right. Wouldn't you have found it?

LIASSON: They would've found one by now. So what they're looking for is some kind of a solution to the DREAMers - to the DACA recipients - that would satisfy both moderate Republicans and conservative Freedom Caucus members. That seems hard to imagine. But even if they did find that, Mitch McConnell in the Senate said he doesn't want to bring anything to the floor that the president won't sign. And the last time the president weighed in on this, he issued demands for a bill that included steep cuts in the number of legal immigrants, and Democrats certainly won't vote for that.

MARTIN: Do we know where the president is right now on the issue of immigration? I mean, is he motivated by it right now?

LIASSON: Well, what's so interesting about this is you've got the president out on the campaign trail using immigration as a political weapon. He thinks it's a great issue for him in the elections, saying Democrats love illegal immigrants more than they like U.S. citizens. So he is using immigration as a real hard line. The politics of this cut in many different ways inside the Republican coalition.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Mara Liasson for us this morning. Thanks so much, Mara.

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