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It's Been A Dramatic Week Of Concessions From North Korea


North Korea seems to have made some major concessions ahead of a meeting between Kim Jong Un and the president of South Korea next Friday. The North Korean leader announced that he will close its nuclear test site and suspend missile tests, which the U.S. and President Trump have been calling big progress. Of course, Trump and Kim have their own historic summit in the works to talk through all these developments. NPR's Elise Hu joins us from Seoul. Thanks very much for being with us, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: What's the reaction been like there in South Korea?

HU: Well, South Korea's presidential spokesman is also positive about this, calling it meaningful progress. He says it will contribute to a positive environment for the success of the upcoming North-South summit, which is set for this coming Friday. And we should point out, though, that North Korea is repackaging, essentially, a testing suspension that has already been in place. And this nuclear site that is shut down can be reopened. So while there's a lot of optimism right now from South Korea's presidential administration, the past is full of instances where North Korea has gone back on its commitments. So longtime North Korea watchers are really looking for action and not just these public pronouncements, if you will.

SIMON: What does North Korea want or expect to get, hope to get in exchange for any concession?

HU: The assumption is that North Korea wants some sanctions relief. There's, you know, obviously a lot of sanctions on it right now - and possibly recognition that it is a nuclear state. That recognition is something that the U.S. has traditionally considered a nonstarter. But this upcoming North-South summit will be telling. It will be live streamed, which means there's not a lot of room for anything unexpected to happen there, especially with all the cameras on.

So one point that has come up is that these apparent North Korean concessions like shutting down the test site and dropping a longstanding demand for the U.S. to remove troops from South Korea - these are the types of things that you would actually expect leaders to agree to at the summit itself. So I spoke with Robert Kelly. He's a professor at South Korea's Pusan National University. And his question about what North Korea wants and what South Korea will do as a bargain is exactly what you asked.

ROBERT KELLY: The North Koreans maybe shot their bolt already, right? They've already sort of leaked out a lot of what their deal is, what they are going to offer on the table. It would be helpful if the South Koreans were to put that out there, too, so you can have a sense of sort of, like, what the bargain is. You know, South Korea being a democracy ultimately, South Korean publics are going to have to pass judgment on what it is that Moon brings back from the summit.

SIMON: Elise, as you note, North Korea has made promises, signed treaties and agreements before and then walked away from them. What about the skepticism people ought to have in their minds now?

HU: Yeah, there should be a healthy amount of skepticism because this is, you know, one of those tricky situations. You want to see this progress. You know, we should be welcoming this if we want to see peace, right? But because of the past, North Korea really shot a lot of its credibility. And so one of the first reactions is often to ask, what are the ulterior motives? The opposition party in South Korea is saying, hey, let's not get played here. These are pledges only. Let's wait to see some action. And these upcoming summits are going to be very telling.

SIMON: Elise Hu in Seoul, thanks so much for being with us.

HU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.