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What Diplomacy Can And Can't Change With North Korea


And let's talk about how this weekend's nuclear test ups the ante in the North Korea crisis. President Trump's national security team rushed to meet yesterday. Afterward, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stepped out of the White House and issued a warning.


JAMES MATTIS: We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely, North Korea. But as I said, we have many options to do so.

KELLY: Mattis would have the lead when it comes to military options. For more on diplomatic options, we're turning to a diplomat who spent a lot of time talking with North Korean negotiators.

Ambassador Christopher Hill, good morning.


KELLY: Is this past weekend's nuclear test a game-changer?

HILL: Well, I think it's getting there. I don't think it is yet. I mean, certainly, they've been working on a hydrogen weapon for some time. And by all accounts - we'll have to wait for the final accounting - but by all accounts, this was a very successful test. And the yield was quite a lot greater than in the past. So they're clearly there.

It is not at all clear, however, that they have a workable design yet. I mean, they're claiming to have a design for a deliverable weapon, but it's not at all clear that that is the case. But what is clear is that they are not stopping. They don't really care what we think. They don't care what the Chinese think. They certainly don't care what the U.N. thinks.

Clearly, sanctions, which we are all pushing for, are nonetheless on a train that's probably a little too slow for the development of the nuclear weapon. So I think we're really going to have to put our heads together.

KELLY: OK, so you're referencing questions there over whether this past weekend was, in fact, a hydrogen bomb, which would be more powerful than a normal nuclear test.

HILL: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Also, questions about whether they can marry such a bomb with a missile and how far that could get. Was it striking to you, though, to hear those words just there from Jim Mattis, U.S. defense secretary - using the words total annihilation in speaking about another country?

HILL: Yes, well, he used it in a negative. He said that's not what we're seeking. But I think his point was - frankly, he is probably the most credible figure in the administration's national security team. And I think he's making the point to allies - to friends and allies that, look, we've got your back; we have a lot of capabilities. We're going to protect ourselves, our territories and the allies. I think it was an important statement of reassurance and states it's not working...

KELLY: ...Reassurance to allies in the region, you mean.

HILL: Yeah, allies in the region - Japan and South Korea, notably. And I think he also was making it clear that our goal here is denuclearization. It's not annihilation. But it was an interesting word to use on a Sunday morning. So certainly, I think he was being pretty tough and tried to follow the lead of our president, who often is kind of off on his own with his dead-of-the-night tweets.

KELLY: Well, let's talk through some of the diplomatic options. We should note that Switzerland has weighed in. They've offered today to serve as a mediator between the U.S. and North Korea. Would something like that be helpful? I mean, what does the path look like for diplomacy, at this stage?

HILL: Right now, the real diplomacy is not necessarily with the North Koreans. It's really with the Chinese. The U.S. has to have a really deep dive with the Chinese. And this is not coordinating statements, or somehow just talking about sanctions and things like that. This is a - there needs to be a sort of deep dive of the kind that Henry Kissinger had before Richard Nixon went over and opened China. So I think there needs to be an understanding of what we expect of them, what they expect of us.

And certainly, the model of saying, hey, China, we're going to outsource this to you; in return, we'll help you out on some trade issues - that's clearly not working and not going to work. And I would've liked to see the U.S., on this sort of crisis weekend, send an envoy off to China and go into this deep dive that I think is very necessary because when this problem is solved - and I do remain confident we'll solve it - I think there needs to be an understanding that China has to be part of that solution.

KELLY: But as you said, and just briefly, China - has long been the U.S. policy that China has to step up and use its leverage. Do they have that kind of leverage - enough to persuade North Korea to give up nukes?

HILL: They have less than we say and more than they say.

KELLY: (Laughter) OK, sounds like we need to get you back on to have another whole conversation about North Korea. And that's former - and China.

HILL: It's a wonderful subject, yeah.

KELLY: Former Ambassador Christopher Hill, thanks so much.

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

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