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North, South Korea Leaders To Meet For Historic Summit; Junot Diaz On His First Picture Book, "Islandborn". Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, the leaders of North and South Korea agree to meet face-to-face for the first time in more than

a decade as diplomacy over the North's nuclear programs gathers pace. My conversation with the renowned US nuclear scientist, Siegfried Hecker, who

has visited the North's nuclear facilities.

Plus, the Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz on his first children's book, "Islandborn", helping little readers deal with the big issues facing

our world.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

The date is set. The leaders of North and South Korea will meet for the first time on April 27. It's their first summit since 2007. The historic

summit between President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un will be held on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone.

The announcement comes just a day after news emerged of Kim's surprise visit to Beijing where he said he wanted to resolve the issue of

denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

And it adds to the flurry of diplomacy ahead of what's hoped to be President Trump's meeting with the young North Korean leader. That could

take place as soon as May.

I put all of this to the nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who served as director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which was the birthplace of

the American atomic bomb, and who has visited North Korea and its nuclear facilities many times.

Sig Hecker, welcome to the program. You are one of those rare beings who has been to North Korea, who knows what's going on. So, first and

foremost, I just want to know your gut reaction to the idea that there is going to be a summit with South Korea and then perhaps a meeting with

President Trump. What do you think about this?

SIEGFRIED HECKER, FORMER DIRECTOR, LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY: I think it's a great idea and a big step forward, especially after all of the

dangers that we saw in 2017. Good move, but it's going to be very difficult, but nevertheless it's welcome.

AMANPOUR: OK. It's welcome because it defuses tension, but you know the nitty-gritty, the technical aspects of what a negotiation would look like.

For instance, is denuclearization feasible?

HECKER: Well, nobody's really defined exactly what denuclearization means. Is it possible to walk back all of their nuclear programs? It's going to

be very difficult. Yes, it's possible.

But if denuclearization means actually having then get rid of all of their capabilities, everything from making the bomb fuel, highly-enriched

uranium, plutonium and the hydrogen isotopes to the whole business of designing, building and testing the weapons to the missile complex, that's

an enormous undertaking and we're going to have to have patience and determination and cooperation from North Korea.

AMANPOUR: But do you not think from a Western perspective, from a South Korean perspective, that is what they want? I mean, is it possible if all

sides enter in good faith? Or do you think that's not what the North Koreans see as denuclearization?

HECKER: Well, I think the North Koreans would indeed look at this as a long, long process. Kim Jong-un himself has said that he has no need for

nuclear weapons as long as the security of his regime is guaranteed and there's no military threat. I think, in that eventuality, it might be

possible, but it's going to take a long time to get there.

And in the meantime, one is going to have to manage the risks of how to get that eventual goal.

AMANPOUR: And what do you make of Kim Jong-un having just gone to China? What do you think China is trying to say? And this is Kim's first trip

abroad since being leader.

HECKER: My immediate reaction was, is he clever - that is Kim Jong-un. Is he clever? He already was able to respond to President Moon Jae-in, South

Korea president, in a positive way for them to get together and then he reaches out to President Trump and, of course, in the meantime, the

important additional card is China and they've had such a terrible relationship, particularly in these last six years. So, he reaches out to


So, to me, he's sort of lining up all the important players. So, I've looked at this much more as Kim Jong-un's initiative to reach out to China

and to make sure that at least he has some support for China, whatever he has in mind.

[14:05:11] AMANPOUR: You have been to Yongbyon several times. What do you make of the Jane's Report from last month that says it's detecting activity

again at the plutonium reactors at Yongbyon? What do you make of that? The North Koreans say it's just for civilian electricity generation. Do

you believe it?

HECKER: Well, that small reactor, which actually I saw it coming out of the ground when I was there in 2010, I believe, was built primarily for a

prototype for electricity production. And that's the way they were going along.

They've taken a long, long time to get that reactor out because it's a whole new reactor concept for them.

So, electricity production was an important part of that. However, if they can operate this thing on their own without any international inspectors in

there, any reactor that uses uranium fuel will make plutonium.

And then, one would be able to extract that plutonium to make bombs. So, that's possible.

So, right now, if indeed they're left alone, they continue that nuclear weapons program, if they bring that reactor up, it would be possible to

make plutonium. And that's one of the reasons why it's very important to actually come to agreement with the North Koreans, either to go ahead and

halt the various reactors, not start this reactor, or at least to allow international inspectors in.

So, to me, this is not a big panic time at all. They're just getting heavy, all the pieces in place. They have one reactor that makes

plutonium. It makes very little. This reactor could possibly make plutonium.

AMANPOUR: Because, again, you know, what can tell us about what you think they actually have right now in terms of plutonium, warheads, in terms of

missile capability, in terms of uranium enrichment? What do they actually have?

HECKER: So, for plutonium, we have a very good sense of what they have because you have to make it in reactors and then you have to extract it in

a reprocessing facility. We know when those facilities are operating.

For uranium enrichment, we basically know very, very little. And so, all of our estimates of how much highly enriched uranium they could've made,

which would give them this alternate path to the bomb are based on essentially our estimates. And much of it based on what I saw there in

November in 2010.

So, the bottom line is great uncertainty. The best that I've been able to pull together is we know what they had when I visited, which is 2,000

centrifuges, we know approximately how much highly-enriched uranium they can make.

They went ahead and they doubled that capacity. We believe - all we can actually see from overheads is they doubled the size of the building. So,

if we assume they doubled that size and have 4,000 centrifuges, and then at least my own view is they'd have to have at least another facility or

perhaps two someplace else that are covert. We don't know where they are.

And so, if you put all of those together, we can come up with an estimate. And so, the best estimates that I've made in terms of highly enriched

uranium is somewhere between 250 and 500 kilograms of highly enriched uranium.

Now, what does that mean? If you put that together with the plutonium, in my estimate, they have enough of this bomb fuel for 25 to 30 nuclear

weapons and perhaps they can make enough for another six weapons or so. And by weapons, I mean, the fission type weapons like Hiroshima and


AMANPOUR: Right. Sig, do you believe that the president, President Trump, sort of so-called bellicose stance towards North Korea or the tweets, the

threats of the blood nose, the sort of highly militaristic, jingoistic jargon that was being used by both sides.

Do you think this has brought about this moment of possible diplomacy?

HECKER: President Trump has certainly threatened the North Koreans. And does it work? We're very uncertain about how much highly enriched uranium

they have. We're much more uncertain yet as to what's worked or not worked.

But my own sense is that the North Koreans most likely at this point just simply don't know what President Trump is going to do. And so to some

extent, you might say that unpredictability may actually have had an effect on the North Koreans.

On the other hand, it's also a pretty high stake gamble because, at this point, North Koreans have the capability, in my opinion, to reach any part

of South Korea or Japan with a nuclear weapon.

[14:10:14] And so, the potential of an outbreak of war is there. And that's what has concerned the most in 2017 and concerned me about the

bellicose rhetoric going back and forth also from North Korea to the United States.

And so, my feeling was, most important thing at this point was to make sure that somehow we don't get - accidentally get into a war, and that's what

2017 looked like. That's why all the developments in 2018, the potential inter-Korean summit, the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un are

welcome developments.

AMANPOUR: Siegfried Hecker, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

It can be difficult to speak about the horrors we face. Harder still, to talk to our children about them. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot

Diaz is beginning that conversation in his first children's book, "Islandborn", telling the story of Lola.

Around 6 years old, she's trying to learn about the homeland that she left as a baby. Diaz draws on memories of his own childhood home, the Dominican

Republic, a place full of music and color, but also terrors in the form of the brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo.

When we spoke this week, Diaz told me that his first picture book is the fulfillment of a promise he made long ago.

Junot Diaz, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: It's a great pleasure to talk to you. I read your book, the seminal book, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao". And like everybody,

I was swept away by it. It was so different, you're your syntax, the language, the way you wrote it.

But how does Junot Diaz go from that really edginess to this adorable, sweet, lovely kids' book, complete with beautiful pictures?

DIAZ: I think the young people in one's life makes certain demands on you and you've got kind of try to meet them. So, my goddaughters asked me for

a book, a picture book, a children's book for them about them. And I tried to kind of - I tried to execute to make it happen.

AMANPOUR: So, they asked you. And, of course, you immediately did for them. Is that right?

DIAZ: No. I didn't immediately do it. In fact, I'm so slow. I'm such a kind of a laborious writer that it took me 20 years. They asked me when

they were seven and I handed it to them when they were 27. And now, they're like lawyers and urban farmers.

AMANPOUR: Yes. It is amazing. And you actually just now hit the nail on the head because this book has landed right in the middle of a global focus

on identity and a search for identity and a hanging on of identity by people from all over the world, especially immigrant communities.

So, it's called "Islandborn." So, what is Lola, the protagonist, trying to say? What is her story?

DIAZ: I think little Lola, she's this really curious, really bright and really beloved girl who lives in a diasporic community. She lives in an

immigrant community, but she doesn't actually remember the place that she's from, a place that the book calls "the Island."

And I think it's really about how do we create conversations with places that are very important to us and to our communities. How do we remember

what's difficult not to remember? And also, how do we find home when we often come from multiple homes? And I think that's what the book is trying

to get at.

AMANPOUR: So, it sort of opens when she is in class and the teacher wants the whole class, all of different colors and genders and origins, to tell

their story. And everybody's got a little memory of their home and their country, except for Lola.

She is seized by a panic and just doesn't know what she's going to do about it.

DIAZ: Yes. No, Lola - first, it's like this teacher - I've always loved teachers. I've loved my teachers. Kind of sparks this moment in her where

she realizes that there's something very important to her life that surrounds her home, "the Island," that she has no memory of.

And that requires her to suddenly dig deep not only in herself and in her family. Her teacher informs her, advises her that even if she doesn't

remember, maybe she should talk to people who do remember and that will spark something.

[14:15:10] AMANPOUR: Why do you think - what message is it saying today, in America today, particularly to Hispanics?

DIAZ: Well, I mean, I think anyone who has another home, anyone who is an immigrant, anyone's a newcomer, anyone who has ever wondered about that

place where their grandparents come from and who sought to - how do we create a relationship, how do we understand that kind of presence that's in

our lives, I feel like the book attempts to address that, a methodology, attempts to show you that there is a way forward and to kind of invite

people to create a relationship to places that seem far and elusive and that there's nothing wrong with you not being able to remember a home

perhaps and still attempting to create a relationship with it.

In the United States right now, we have a kind of a set of politics that are sort of like knives. They're trying to cut people off from their

complexity, cut people off from multiplicity and that's been very, very dangerous and also just very cruel.

And it's unrealistic. No one hails from one place. We're both in the present and we're in the past. And there's also those of us who physically

come from multiple places, which is a reality that we should be exploring and celebrating, and not attempting to diminish.

We left worlds that were very important to us that even the simplistic stories that we left home to find a better world obscure that there were

people that we loved, that there were aspects of the society that were important to us, that there were foods and smells and musics and habits and

song that were just vital to our souls.

And often, the model for immigrants tends to be a deficit model, that we left home because there wasn't X back home or that we were missing Y.

But it doesn't get at the heart of how often our homes are also full of love, they're cornucopia of feeling and of opportunities, but that certain

circumstances required us to move. It doesn't have to always be that our home was some sort of apocalypse.

Sometimes, we really left places that matter to us deeply, but we had no other options. And I'm trying to get that as well across.

AMANPOUR: So, the book is full of the most fantastic illustrations and, of course, as we said, the teacher tells her, even if you don't remember, go

and find people in your neighborhood, in your family who remember and ask them what they remember.

One of your favorite illustrations is when little Lola is essentially sitting on her grandmother's lap and they're looking at books and the

grandmother is telling her stories.

Take us back to that moment. And it must have resonated with you in your family as well.

And it's important where - I think why this matters. For example, in the story, Lola's journey, her attempt to figure out not only her relationship

to her home, but in some ways to kind of investigate her family's relationship to her home, her innocent childlike questions open up an

opportunity for her grandmother to (INAUDIBLE), to in fact say things that she perhaps has not said, to bear witness.

Lola, her innocence and just her curiosity, opens a space for the generations to meet and to meet honestly. And I thought that that was

really, really important and, for me, very moving because that was what happened with me.

I had asked my grandparents questions because I needed answers to things and it was only because I asked the questions that that space opened up for

them to think about some of the events and some of the kind of experiences that they've had that they've locked away, thought that nobody wanted to

hear about.

And in some ways, it made us closer. It created an intergenerational love, closeness that wasn't there before. It was just - for me, it was always a

powerful, powerful dialogue I have with my grandparents and kind of I wanted to narrativize it, give it to Lola.

AMANPOUR: Well, you get it across incredibly dramatically. First of all, you start to raise the specter of the monster and there's a brilliant

illustration of the monster that looks like sort of a cross between a bat and a I-don't-know-what, riding a tsunami and everybody fleeing.

[14:20:03] And Lola gets that side of the story from the Super in her building. And nobody's told her about the monster which is, of course, the

dictator Trujillo in the 60s.

Tell us about that ugly part of the history there, that she's now being taught.

DIAZ: Yes. I mean, I think most of us come from societies that have suffered and have adored what I would call political monsters, political


And in the Dominican Republic, we had a dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic for 31 years, incredibly cruel, incredibly violent, incredibly

sadistic. He had US backing and a lot of Dominican families were terrorized. Entire society was terrorized.

In fact, the first wave of Dominican immigrants were fleeing from his regime and he was someone really a - he was like a terror that lingered

over the entire community.

When I was young, Trujillo, he was already, and yet you could feel the fear that he still emanated. He was like something from the undead, something

that just lingered on.

And my parents and grandparents, when they would tell stories, they would tell stories that were scrupulously edited to us children, but we could

always tell that there something really disturbing and problematic behind them.

And, of course, as we got older, we discovered that the person, the being, the shadow behind these stories was Trujillo, this dictator that just did

so much harm.

(INAUDIBLE) important for me to remind our communities that often we are the children who have suffered and overcome political monsters and that

this isn't just something in the past, that this is a legacy that I think will serve us in good stead in the future.

AMANPOUR: So, look, this is an idea that you had, you made up this story on the spot, something like 20 years ago. And it lands now because you

said you're very slow to put pen to paper.

But here it is landing in a world of monsters, if I might say. There are so many so-called strongmen emerging all over, in democracies, in

dictatorships, all over. This seems to me to be a pretty receptive moment even for a fairytale about this.

DIAZ: Sadly. Very sadly so. As I said something, there's something about the way we're wired, something about humans and our weaknesses and our

desires and our fears that often lead us to be trapped by authoritarian figures.

And there's no question that we're in a very difficult moment currently. There is just way too many political monstrosities around both in the

United States and in Europe. And the danger is only increasing, which is why I think it's very valuable for an entire generation, for all of us to

remember that the thing that we're really best at is fighting and overcoming political monstrosities.

This is something that's made any of our freedoms possible. The only reason me and you are talking right now is because this has happened. And

even though, time seemed very ominous, we should take heart because this is our real strength. If we have any superpower, it's that.

AMANPOUR: And I was staggered when I read to the end of the story and I see you specifically describing the women who had defeated the monster.

And I didn't know enough about the history and I went back to see that the women in the Dominican Republic really stood up against Trujillo. Tell us

a little bit about that.

You said it's to remember all the brave women and the men who helped defeat him.

DIAZ: You had women really organized. And it wasn't for their social circuits, if it wasn't for their political circuits and if it wasn't for

their just flat-out courage, I think the dictatorship would have lasted a lot longer than it did.

And you had a group of women from one family, the Mirabal Sisters, who in some ways sparked the fire that would end up burning this dictator out of


AMANPOUR: We talked about the time in which this book is landing and the DREAMers who were brought over here through no - whatever, no control of

their own and who are in legal limbo. What does this moment mean to you as an immigrant and just as an American?

DIAZ: Yes. I've been involved with the immigrant rights since I was a kid in college. I mean, we have to understand that most of the societies in

the West owe their prosperity to the underpaid and mistreated labor of immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

[14:25:00] And this current cruelties, just current - the kind of malign mistreatment and stigmatization of immigrants speaks to a real messed up

politics. I mean, we should be celebrating our immigrants and figuring out ways to make their lives easier.

And by afflicting them, I think this is a way that our kind of messed up politicians distract people from who their real enemies are. The

immigrants, documented or otherwise, are not the biggest problems facing any country.

On the other hand, neoliberal politics which gut public education, gut healthcare, gut public space, make life more difficult for all of us, we

should be focused on that and less focused on the weakest among us.

AMANPOUR: Junot Diaz, thank you so much indeed for joining us.

DIAZ: No, it's a real honor, Christiane. Real honor. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Junot Diaz speaking to me earlier this week. Fantasy and harsh reality meeting in his story, "Islandborn".

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, you can see us online at and follow me on

Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.