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Interview with South Korea foreign minister; North Korean defector discusses summit. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 26, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, from South Korea, as a historic summit with the North gets underway, I go one-on-one with this

country's foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, determined to find a path to peace on the peninsula despite the odds.

Plus, a word of warning from a former top North Korean insider. Thae Yong- ho, a deputy ambassador to the UK turned defector. He tells me why he doesn't believe the North is prepared to give up its nuclear weapons.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in Seoul, South Korea at a historic moment here and it's arrived at

dizzying speed. After years of violent rhetoric, the Korean leaders meet face to face, attempting to pull off a near impossible task, bringing peace

to this peninsula.

There are plenty of skeptics, but South Korea is radiating optimism, determined to begin a successful process, widely seen as a precursor to a

summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un - to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear program.

And no expense, minute detail or careful preparation have been spared. I felt the optimism up close from South Korea's foreign minister, Kang Kyung-

wha. And when we sat down in her office just before the big meeting started, she told me her president has put his leadership on the line for


Foreign minister, welcome to the program.

KANG KYUNG-WHA, FOREIGN MINISTER OF SOUTH KOREA: Thank you, Christiane. Very happy to be with you.

AMANPOUR: It is an amazing opportunity. As some have called it, a risky opportunity. Are you surprised by how quickly this moment has arrived? I

mean, let's face it, just four months ago, Kim Jong-un was talking about pressing nuclear buttons from his desk and President Trump was responding

in kind.

KYUNG-WHA: I think we're all surprised - obviously pleasantly surprised. I think by all indications, we are headed towards a very successful summit

between my president and Chairman Kim.

As I keep telling my colleagues, I feel like somebody stepped on the accelerator at the beginning of the year and it's been nonstop since then.

AMANPOUR: How do you account for it?

KYUNG-WHA: Clearly, credit goes to President Trump. He's been determined to come to grips with this from day one. My president also since day one.

And I think that Presidents Moon and Trump have worked very closely together, sometimes in complementarity, sometimes in different messaging,

but at the end, the message was will not be accepted - never be accepted as a nuclear power. And if it continues on this road and provokes, that every

provocation will be met with further sanctions.

But we've also said, but you need to change, but if you change course, there is a better future on offer that we are willing to work with you.

AMANPOUR: So, now comes the hard part. What does Kim Jong-un want? Your president has said that he has put down no preconditions, not even the

demand that they always make, which is the removal of US forces and ironclad security guarantees.

I mean, really? There are no preconditions? You don't expect them to ask for anything?

KYUNG-WHA: He did say - what he did say was, if the threat - the military threat is removed, if it is guaranteed security, then there is no reason

for him to have nuclear weapons. So, those are two big items that he's put on the table.

We will know better with greater clarity at the table. So, the details of the denuclearization commitment is really to be elaborated and explored at

the summit table.

AMANPOUR: Denuclearization may mean different things to different people. As you heard President Trump even just in the last couple of days said,

what does it mean to him? It means dismantling and getting rid of the North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Just getting rid of it. Ending it.

And you, I believe, feel the same way.

KYUNG-WHA: Yes. Yes.

AMANPOUR: What do you think they mean by denuclearization?

KYUNG-WHA: Again, they clearly know what we want. And also, they had committed to the denuclearization jointly with South Korea in 1992, which

was exactly removing any nuclear weapons and weapons development programs from the Korean Peninsula.

[14:05:00] They've pretty much recommitted to that in the Six Party Agreement of 2005.

So, our goal is clear. Denuclearization is a goal, but it's also a process. You need to have a process to get to that goal.

So, I think the task is then spelling out that process.

AMANPOUR: Critics have said that this is not the first time a North Korean leader has talked about denuclearization or wanting to end the war with a

formal peace treaty.

But before, it's been sort of a bottom up kind of thing. In other words, economic aid has been given. Humanitarian assistance has been given. Some

sanctions have been lifted. And boom, the whole thing collapses.

So, people are saying that in order for this to be more successful that your present, for instance, in this summit needs to establish a top-down

process and be very clear about what your demands are.

Do you think that that is what's going to happen? I mean, is your demand that sanctions won't be removed until you can see verifiable dismantling of

the nuclear program?

KYUNG-WHA: That is exactly our position. So, until we see visible, meaningful steps, action, taken by North Korea towards denuclearization,

the sanctions are in place, regardless of the intention that we read.

In the end, it will be the actions that we will need to see.

AMANPOUR: What is on the table from President Moon's perspective. We've heard that he wants to talk about a formal end to the war. Is that on the

table, a peace treaty?

KYUNG-WHA: I think yes. At some point, we will need a peace treaty to replace the armistice that was signed in 1953. But peace is also about the

reality. You can't go from an armistice agreement and they want - you need to create the reality of peace by removing hostilities.

And then, when there is sufficient confidence on both sides, then you're ready to sign a peace treaty.

AMANPOUR: So, it's not something you're going to immediately put on the table? In other words, signing a formal peace treaty before even getting to


KYUNG-WHA: I think that would be unrealistic. I think, certainly, ascertaining the understanding and the aspiration on the part of both

leaders in that direction will be a good thing. And I'm hoping that that will happen.

But putting something on the table to be signed is long off in the future.

AMANPOUR: Do you feel a lot of pressure? Does South Korea feel a lot of pressure for this summit meeting? Is there lot riding on it?

KYUNG-WHA: Yes, yes. Pressure, but also great deal of support. And the president has basically put his leadership on the line by this huge

initiative. But I think he does so with confidence and clear sight of where he wants to take this.

AMANPOUR: How important is it that Kim Jong-un is going to come down to the Demilitarized Zone, to the Peace Village and step kind of over the border

into the South Korean part of -?

KYUNG-WHA: Well, think that alone is very significant. As you know, the two previous ones were held in Pyongyang. They had made all the arrangements.

We had placed trust in them to make sure that the summit took place.

They are placing their trust in us. That's the good sign.

AMANPOUR: What do you think will constitute success after the summit wraps up on Friday?

KYUNG-WHA: Some kind of a joint statement that spells out shared understanding of the two leaders on a broad set of issues, which is

denuclearization, peace and South-North relations. If we can get put in writing the North leader's commitment to denuclearization, that would be a

very, very solid outcome.

But then, this to be - this will be the course setter for the next historic engagement, which is the US-North Korea.

AMANPOUR: And how do you analyze? You must have been listening to what he's been saying to his own people, speeches and statements, over the last

several days and weeks.

And the last one was when he essentially declared North Korea as a nuclear power and said that we need a new strategic course. And that is economic



AMANPOUR: Do you see that as genuine that he's willing to have a different view for his country and that he's trying to bring his people along? I

mean, he doesn't really have to? He's the ultimate power there.

[14:10:02] KYUNG-WHA: When he so clearly states that in his declaration, I think it's not just rhetoric. It's a clear commitment that I am going to be

delivering this for this country. So, I think it's genuine.

AMANPOUR: Many people thought President Trump was being very dangerous with all the fire and the fury and the my button is bigger than your button and

all of that kind of stuff.

Did that concentrate South Korea's minds? Did you feel you had to really get out ahead of the curve and see if there was another way forward rather

than a potential conflict?

KYUNG-WHA: I think, in the end, all options on the table, us consistently on the peaceful resolution side has, in fact, worked in complementarity.

But the first meeting between Presidents Moon and Trump clearly spelled out the joint position on this, which was pressure and sanctions, but also

dialogue towards a peaceful resolution. And that hasn't changed.

I think the nuancing of that message on a day-to-day basis was ups and down, but that has been the consistent joint stance.

AMANPOUR: Human rights have always been an issue when it comes to North Korea. And there are people in the human rights community and elsewhere who

are concerned that this is not part of the formal agenda.

Can you tell me whether it will be on the agenda? Will you raise the issue of human rights, given that North Korea is considered to be, if not the

worst, well then one of the worst violators?

KYUNG-WHA: We're not sure North Korea is ready to respond to this issue at this point. But the summit has been - is being structured to be very

flexible. So, depending upon how the discussions go, I wouldn't rule it out, but I can -

AMANPOUR: You wouldn't rule out your president raising it?

KYUNG-WHA: But I wouldn't count on it being there either.

AMANPOUR: What is your full back option? What is plan B if this summit somehow doesn't work, if you don't get the general statement, if you don't

get a feeling that actually this is going to lead somewhere?

KYUNG-WHA: Well, I don't want into hypotheticals, but I think past experience tells us that, however, difficult the situation is, you need to

engage, you need constantly to have them at the table.

AMANPOUR: And after this summit, what then does President Moon - how does he engage with President Trump? Is there going to be a meeting? What does

he do? Does he carry back a message that it's a red light, a green light or yellow light? Will he advise as to whether it's a good idea -?

KYUNG-WHA: Well, I'm sure that our two presidents will be immediately on the phone, for my president to debrief President Trump. And depending upon

how then the US-North Korea goes, there could be a trilateral summit.

AMANPOUR: At this point, you are confident that there will be a Trump-Kim meeting?

KYUNG-WHA: There will be.

AMANPOUR: Foreign minister, thank you very much.

KYUNG-WHA: Thank you, Christiane. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: So, from that soaring confidence to crashing skepticism. Not surprising since my next guest is the highest-level defector ever from the

North. Thae Yong-ho was North Korea's deputy ambassador to the UK when he defected to the South with his family in 2016.

He keeps a low profile here while advising the government. And he shared his unique and vital insights with me.

Welcome to the program. The last time we spoke, you were in Washington. You were testifying before Congress about the situation inside North Korea. It

was the first time you'd ever been to the United States.


AMANPOUR: How did you find America?

YONG-HO: Oh, it was my first visit and I had a very good impression. Especially I learned that the American congressmen were highly interested

in improving the human rights conditions of North Korea. And they actually had really profound knowledge of North Korea, which surprised me quite a


AMANPOUR: What do you think people inside North Korea think, particularly with the idea of these upcoming summits?

YONG-HO: Whenever the world deals with North Korea, whether it is a summit or diplomatic negotiations, whatever, the world should understand that

North Korea is a very special and unique country. It is the only place where the people are prevented from the outside information.

So, North Korean leadership is very good at creating quite different messages or images about its leader and its system. Every day, I watch

North Korean TV and I read the newspapers and medias, but actually the propaganda work of North Korea, it's saying quite different things to its


[14:15:11] AMANPOUR: What's it saying?

YONG-HO: Yes. It's saying that the current - this kind of peaceful atmosphere around North Korea is the direct achievement and outcome of the

completion of nuclear weapons development.

AMANPOUR: So, do you think that when he talks about denuclearization that he is prepared under the right circumstances to dismantle, to give up his

nuclear weapons?

YONG-HO: I'm very skeptical. I don't believe it at all. What Kim Jong-un wants to achieve through this upcoming summit, including tomorrow's North

and South summit, is a kind of acceptance as a leader of a new nuclear state.

So, for instance, now tomorrow, the summit will be held in Panmunjom. And even -

AMANPOUR: Which is that special town inside the DMZ.

YONG-HO: Yes. That's right. And even that special area of Panmunjom is interpreted quite differently between North and South.

In South Korea, Panmunjom is the symbol of peace, which actually brought the end of Korean War, but in North Korea, Panmunjom is the place where

America was forced to sign a surrender paper.

So, Panmunjom is the symbol of victory. And now, tomorrow, Kim Jong-un would appear to Panmunjom as the leader of nuclear state. He would be very

warmly welcomed and very well accepted because of honors that would be offered to him.

So, North Korean propaganda work may deliver a quite different images and news to its own people and system to consolidate his long-term continuation

of the power.

The most important thing for Kim Jong-un right now is to be accepted as the leader of nuclear state. So, that is his priority. That's why Kim Jong-un

actually never said about denuclearization of North Korea.

What he said that he would be committed to the teachings by his grandfather and father of denuclearization of Korean Peninsula. There is a big

difference between denuclearization of North Korea and denuclearization of Korean Peninsula.

The main concept of denuclearization of Korean Peninsula is the withdrawal of all nuclear weapons of United States.

AMANPOUR: But the US has withdrawn them.

YONG-HO: Yes. And also, the prevention of any deployment or temporary introduction of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula or around Korean


And thirdly, the complete - the stop of any nuclear threat on Korean Peninsula.

So, actually, the concept of denuclearization of Korean Peninsula, which is understood and stated by North Korea is quite different what the world is


And so far, North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated couple of times that they would go on the denuclearization process of Korean Peninsula and

they also said that the denuclearization of North Korea can only be started when the denuclearization of the world by the nuclear superpowers do the

similar things.

So, actually, the timetable of North Korea's denuclearization is deliberately matched to the denuclearization of the other nuclear power


AMANPOUR: So, that seems like a non-starter. It's a non-starter for South Korea. It's a non-starter for the United States. You heard President Trump

say that his version, his understanding of denuclearization is total dismantlement, destruction of the nuclear weapons program.

So then, what do you expect to be the outcome of the North-South summit?

YONG-HO: I think there can be a kind of a general announcement of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, not denuclearization of North

Korea. So, the general concept like denuclearization of Korean Peninsula would be in the final announcement of tomorrow's North and South.

[14:20:09] And so far, North Korea has been consisting that the nuclear issues should be discussed between North Korea and America, both of them

are nuclear state. So, they wanted to be treated as a nuclear state from America.

AMANPOUR: President Trump has said he is prepared to meet the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and we'll see whether this summit prepares the way for

that meeting. Do you think President Trump should meet him?

YONG-HO: I think so. Yes, meeting is always very important. I think President Trump should use the opportunity of dialogue and meeting that Kim

Jong-un - to tell him that Kim Jong-un cannot reach his goal of nuclear state.

But I'm very skeptical because, these days, American government and American experts are saying that the complete CVID principle should be

applied on the process of denuclearizing of North Korea.


YONG-HO: That's the complete verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of nuclear weapons of North Korea. But I'm very skeptical that North Korea is

willing to accept that kind of a principle because the concept of CVID, it is really a nice protocol word, but so far it has never been applied or

tested to any country.

To North Korea, if they accept complete CVID, then that's the end of North Korean system.

AMANPOUR: As you know, there's been criticism that human rights will not specifically be put on the table in the North-South summit. What do you

think about that?

YONG-HO: Actually, at this time, it is very important to concentrate on denuclearization issues in upcoming summit, but the last destination of

those reconciliation process or improvement of the relations between North and the world would be the human rights issues because no country in the

world can be blind on the human rights, the crimes and atrocities made by North Korean leadership.

So, in the long run, I think nobody can avoid to discuss it. So, that's why I think, if we say about the real and genuine denuclearization of North

Korea, I think that kind of goal cannot be reached or achieved unless Kim dynasty collapses.

AMANPOUR: What about yourself personally? You, obviously, defected, but you still have family in North Korea. And the last time we spoke, you told me

that you're even pleased to have seen them on CNN denouncing you, calling you a scumbag and a rotten scoundrel.

And you were pleased because you said at least that was proof of life. Do you have any news from them, do you know?

YONG-HO: After that CNN report, I haven't heard anything about my siblings or relatives, but I really do hope that they just go on the normal life.

And I really do not want them to be punished because of me.

AMANPOUR: I wonder what you make of the fact that President Trump has been quite heated in his rhetoric about North Korea, but Kim has been very, very

heated in his rhetoric as well about the United States and about his ability to threaten all of the United States.

Do you think they both view each other as slightly unpredictable and neither of them kind of knows what the other one is going to do?

YONG-HO: Those rhetorics made by Kim Jong-un is actually - was not the real ones because Kim Jong-un knows very well that he cannot actually attack

America or Trump. He understands the America's military might. So, that's why he is very much feared of President Trump's unpredictability.

AMANPOUR: He is afraid?

YONG-HO: Of course, yes. And he knows that a North Korean army is not ready for any kind of war with America. So, he understands the reality of North


When Trump delivered that kind of very strong rhetoric, Kim Jong-un could not be silent because he is a young leader and he won't be regarded by

North Korean people as a kind of young hero and very strong leader.

[14:25:11] So, there was no choice for him, but to respond with more rhetoric, words and actions. So, that is I think of the natural outcome

from Kim Jong-un.

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much for your perspective.

YONG-HO: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: So, on our program tonight, two vital views that show just how much is at stake, not only for this Peninsula, but also for the entire


That is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at And of course, you can follow me

on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for watching. And join us again tomorrow when we'll have full details of the summit and we will get a better idea of whether enough was

achieved to pave the way for the next big one between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

Goodbye from atop the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History here in Seoul.