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Ex-Sens. Nunn And Lugar On Disarming North Korea


The other day, former Senator Richard Lugar ran into another politician from his home state of Indiana.

RICHARD LUGAR: I saw Vice President Pence when he swore in a colleague from Indianapolis not long ago. And he took me aside, and he said he wanted to talk about North Korea.

INSKEEP: Pence wanted to talk as his boss, President Trump, prepares for a summit with North Korea's leader. The U.S. wants North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. If North Korea agreed, the next question would be - how? Well, Richard Lugar worked with a Democratic counterpart, Sam Nunn of Georgia, to pass what was called the Nunn-Lugar Act. After the Cold War, it provided ways to remove nuclear weapons from former Soviet republics.

This week, the vice president brought Nunn and Lugar to the White House, where they met with Pence and then with President Trump. The two ex-senators told us that it would be hard to get North Korea to dismantle its program all at once.

SAM NUNN: The quest for speed in denuclearization is understandable. But there is tension between speed and safety. There is tension between speed and verification. And also, speed has got real tension with keeping Congress on board and keeping Congress informed. So all of those things have to be balanced.

INSKEEP: So you're saying that immediate denuclearization is just not practical. How do you do some kind of long-term agreement that would actually be verifiable and that people could believe it would work in the end?

NUNN: I think the Nunn-Lugar concept of basically the United States furnishing expertise and furnishing equipment and machinery to achieve certain goals, having certain specific dismantlement that's going to occur. You basically pay for the performance.

INSKEEP: Senator Lugar, pay for performance - is that meaning actual money to the North Koreans? Or are we talking about lifting economic sanctions on the North Koreans? What does that mean in this context?

LUGAR: Well, pay for performance means that there must be accountability for precisely what happens when money comes into the picture. Furthermore, it could be that the accountability occurs in stages. In other words, there are some aspects of denuclearization or getting rid of chemical and biological weapons - that ought to take place right away but others that are going to take a lot of time. And I would just say simply that the important thing as the president goes to Singapore is that he has a plan.

INSKEEP: Do you have confidence that the president knows what he's talking about?

NUNN: I think he's asking the right questions, and I commend the president for reaching out and getting opinions of people who've been through this before. We have a lot of experts on the ground. I could envision having a team of American and Russian experts assist the North Koreans as needed.

I would make one other point. While we're implementing, it's very important that the North Korean engineers and scientists and technicians that know how to make weapons of mass destruction - not just nuclear but also chemical and biological - that they be gainfully employed, that they have a job, that they not see this as a threat to their well-being in terms of their own families. We don't want them to end up in the Middle East. And we don't want them making weapons around the world.

INSKEEP: Well, you've just hit on one complexity. Make sure that North Korean nuclear scientists don't sell their knowledge elsewhere. And you've touched on another that sounds like it's going to be very difficult here if there's going to be any agreement. You believe that doing this right calls for American experts or maybe a lot of Russian experts to go in and pry all over North Korea, look around and get a look at their nuclear program. Do you think that is going to be practical given that the U.S. is dealing here with a very closed and, it's fair to say, paranoid country?

NUNN: I think it's going to be difficult. And that's why I hope this summit will concentrate on broad goals and they will not try to negotiate all the details. I don't think we should expect the president of the United States to walk away with an airtight agreement that covers all the verification. Verification itself is enormously important, and you have to start with an inventory. If you don't know what the North Koreans produced, you don't know whether you've gotten it all.

INSKEEP: Well, Senator Lugar, how do you make sure, then, the U.S. doesn't get played? Because you were a senator in the 1990s when there was an agreement with North Korea to deal with its nuclear program - and in the end, they backed away from that agreement and ended up being a nuclear power. It's not hard to imagine a situation where North Korea takes the free summit with the president and agrees to do things over time and then just sort of dances away from its end of the agreement and remains a nuclear power.

LUGAR: Well, let me say, first of all, that the nuclear power that we're talking about may be considered by the North Korean leader as essential for his own survival as well as the survival of his country. But at the same time, the North Koreans have come to a point in which they understand that if their economy is ever to grow, they are going to have to deal with the rest of the world. And this offers an opportunity politically.

INSKEEP: Senator Nunn?

NUNN: I totally agree. China has to maintain its sanctions while this is going on. So there has to be conceptual agreement about kind of the endgame with China. I think that's going to take a lot of diplomacy there.

INSKEEP: Some people in the Trump administration suspect or fear that China doesn't really want to solve this problem, that China is happier having North Korea be a problem that takes up the time and the energy of the United States. Do you believe that China is sincere and serious here?

NUNN: Well, I think China doesn't want the Japanese and the South Koreans to have their own nuclear program. I think the Chinese's national interest is that there should be a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Now, they don't want to end up with thousands of American troops on their border. And there have to be understandings about that. They have to be...

INSKEEP: Oh, because if there was a unification under South Korean control...

NUNN: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...That's what would happen.

NUNN: Yes.

INSKEEP: U.S. troops would be on China's border.

NUNN: That's correct. And somebody has got to discuss with the Chinese and the South Koreans as well as the Japanese, what happens if there is some kind of collapse of the North Korean regime? What happens to the weapons and materials? How do we cooperate on that? That's not something we are seeking as a goal. We are specifically not seeking the overthrow of that regime. But you have to plan for contingencies, and that planning has to be with our allies.

INSKEEP: Do either of you, after meeting with Vice President Pence, feel that you understand how the administration is going to approach this summit?

NUNN: I think there is a work in progress now. I think there's a lot of work to be done. And again, I repeat that I think the general goals should be articulated. That would be a good result by both leaders in the summit conference.

INSKEEP: Yeah - but when you say work in progress, we're just days away. How comfortable are you feeling about that?

NUNN: Well, I think there's going to be some midnight oil burned. There's got to be.

INSKEEP: Former Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and Sam Nunn of Georgia.

Thanks to you both.

NUNN: Thank you very much.

LUGAR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOGWAI'S "COOLVERINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.