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White House Spokesman Discusses What's Next In U.S.-North Korea Relations


There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. That statement made by President Trump on Twitter yesterday as he returned from the historic summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un has been hotly debated the last 24 hours. One person skeptical of that statement is Wisconsin Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher. He spoke to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED yesterday about the agreement between Trump and Kim Jong Un.


MIKE GALLAGHER: Prior to us making any concessions, we need to see proof from the Kim regime that they are serious. I think the last three decades of history should give all of us great skepticism. Every time the North Koreans have agreed to anything, they've cheated on that agreement.

CORNISH: Raj Shah is a White House spokesman. He was in Singapore with the president for that meeting. He joins us now. Welcome to the program.

RAJ SHAH: Thanks a lot for having me on.

CORNISH: President Trump has already agreed to suspend military exercises with South Korea. Can you respond to Congressman Gallagher's skepticism here? Has the North proved it's serious enough for the U.S. to make that level of concession already?

SHAH: Well, I think that the congressman, you know, has some merit when he's talking about skepticism. I think that North Korea, you know, hasn't acted in great faith over the last several decades. But that's what makes the visit in Singapore and the president's actions so historic. And I think that the president has, you know, extracted at least some good-faith signals from North Korea and from Kim Jong Un.

This is his first time leaving the Korean Peninsula. He traveled to China on a train but since that has not left the country since he became the leader of the country to travel to Singapore. And, you know, the United States and the president believes that when Kim Jong Un has changed some of his behavior of late and set a much better tone, we have to, you know, give diplomacy a chance and this - and seize this historic opportunity.

Now, with what the president has announced, there hasn't been a loosening of the maximum pressure campaign, and sanctions by the United States and our allies remain in effect. And that's very important going forward. That's something that both the president and Secretary Pompeo have been very firm on. Looking forward...

CORNISH: I want to ask you...

SHAH: Yeah, please.

CORNISH: ...A little more about that then. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he made it clear on Monday that - U.S. policy goals when talking about what the U.S. wants to see from North Korea on denuclearization. Here he is.


MIKE POMPEO: The ultimate objective we seek from diplomacy with North Korea has not changed. The complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the only outcome that the United States will accept.

CORNISH: Now, what North Korea wanted - a note about the Korean Peninsula being nuclearized - that was in the agreement in black and white. But neither are the words verifiable or irreversible or complete - those weren't in the agreement. How come?

SHAH: Well, I think that the statement that both the president and leader Kim Jong Un signed was an initial statement. It was a statement about intent and about goals. And I think we're going to move forward over the next few weeks and months toward more concrete steps. How you get to verifiability, how you get to irreversible are things that are tangible. And we need specific commitments about inspections, about, you know, destroying sites, about details that, you know, it will take a lot more than one meeting to sort out.

And there'll be subsequent meetings at a staff level, at a principals level and then at the presidential and leader level. So this is a process. This is the first step in that process. The statement was a great and important step forward. And as the president said, you know, our eyes are wide open. Peace...

CORNISH: But Secretary Pompeo...

SHAH: Yes.

CORNISH: ...Called it silly when someone asked why it wasn't in there. He called that a silly question. How come? It seems very important if it's U.S. policy.

SHAH: It is certainly U.S. policy. And the secretary is stating U.S. policy. But I think when you have a word like that in there people are going to ask how, right? And I think that's a very fair question. We're developing the how right now. And those are the next steps that are very important to take. To ask for two countries that have had longstanding, you know, conflict, essentially, you know, a war of words, if you will, and really frankly no real relationship to begin to thaw - to expect that to change overnight I don't think is realistic.

But again, as the president said, you know, our eyes are wide open. Our eyes are wide open, but peace is always worth the effort. This is the effort that we have to engage. And we have to engage. We have to take their seemingly positive steps forward. Remember; they did release three Americans.

CORNISH: They did.

SHAH: They have changed the tone in the rhetoric. And we're seeing now, you know, even the state-run media's starting to treat the administration in America a little bit differently. So...

CORNISH: But to that point, I know that...

SHAH: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...People have also raised the issue of human rights. And I know today the White House said that the president did bring this up with North Korea.

SHAH: That's correct.

CORNISH: But is it going to be a point of negotiation?

SHAH: Well, I don't want to get ahead of negotiations. Obviously it's a priority for the United States. You know, the issue of human rights, the issue of, you know, the remains of Americans in Korea and other issues that are not specific to denuclearization are issues that we will raise. But the core issue, as the press secretary said today, is denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and stopping a situation in which millions or tens of millions of people can be killed almost instantly. So that has to be the priority. And we are realistic.

But the president addressed this in his press conference. He does want to see people in forced labor camps and people who are being treated - you know, and there's a variety of human rights abuses you can speak to that are well-documented. He wants to see them treated differently and treated better. But right now the danger that could be posed by a nuclear program in North Korea has to be the priority.

CORNISH: I want to turn to immigration. House Speaker Paul Ryan says he doesn't want to see immigrant children from their families - separated from their families at the border. He said Congress needs to pass legislation that would stop this. And there is an immigration bill, a compromise bill, headed to a vote next week. Would the president sign legislation that would include such a provision, include an end to that practice?

SHAH: Well, we actually have to see the legislation before, you know, we offer kind of a statement of administration policy. And both...

CORNISH: But we know Stephen Miller has been on Capitol Hill helping with negotiations.

SHAH: Yeah. I fully understand that. And we are supportive of the approach as we've seen it so far. What we want to see - and the president has kind of laid out his pillars for immigration reform. He wants to see a reformed legal immigration system which would move us from a system of what we've called chain migration or family-based immigration almost exclusively toward a system of merit-based immigration where individuals - you know, essentially the best and the brightest around the world who have a lot of skills and education...

CORNISH: And I think that part people understand 'cause it's a broad-based bill, right? It's going to have many elements.

SHAH: I understand. But my - I understand that. But the point I am making is that there are a lot of things the president wants to see, and they're all important to him and to the administration. They're all part of our priorities. And seeing more of those things in detail will help us, you know, move forward along this process. So he wants to see merit-based immigration reforms. He wants to see an end to the visa lottery system. He wants to see, you know, more border security, including the physical wall on the southern border. And he's also talked about closing these legal loopholes which you're citing.


SHAH: We don't - hang on.

CORNISH: ...Dealing with separating families not on the table?

SHAH: Well, what I am saying is that the administration wants a holistic approach to fixing the problems at the southern border and that ignoring the law as the previous administration did is not a solution. It's, you know, a Band-Aid in search of a solution. What we need to do is actually fix the problem, secure our southern border and actually fix our laws so that way those implementing them can actually enforce laws, stop and stem the flow of illegal immigration and also fix our legal immigration system.

CORNISH: We'll have to leave it there. Raj Shah is a White House spokesman. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SHAH: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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