CSIS Press Conference Call: Preview of the 2018 United Nations General Assembly
September 21, 2018
COLM QUINN: Thank you all for joining us today at kind of an awkward time, but I really appreciate everyone being on the call.
It’s obviously a big week next week, and we have three great briefers here today to talk us through it.
First off is going to be Mike Green. He’s our senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair here. Then Heather Conley, as you know, is our senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic. She also directs our Europe program. And then rounding us out is Jon Alterman. He’s senior vice president, Zbigniew Brzezinski chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and the director of our Middle East program.
They’re all going to provide opening remarks, and then we’re going to turn it over as quick as we can, because I know you guys have plenty of questions.
So without further ado, I’d love Mike to start us off.
MICHAEL J. GREEN: Thanks, Colm.
Can I just confirm you can hear me, Colm?
MR. QUINN: Everything good.
MR. GREEN: Good. I’m out in L.A. in perfect 75-degree weather right now.
So the U.N. General Assembly has, of course, a broad theme. And this time the theme is Making the United Nations Relevant to All People, which is pretty broad. And there will be other events. Secretary – excuse me – Ambassador Nikki Haley is convening the first-ever Security Council meeting on corruption.
But usually these U.N. General Assembly meetings are most interesting for the diplomacy that happens in the Waldorf Astoria and in the hallways of the U.N. around the crises of the day. And I want to speak for just a few minutes about one of those, which is the North Korea crisis or North Korea diplomacy, depending on your point of view.
As you no doubt saw, President Trump has agreed to a second summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The new envoy on North Korea, Steve Biegun, just came back from consultations with Japan, South Korea, and China. And the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, on the 18th concluded a major summit with Kim Jung-un in Pyongyang and issued the so-called Pyongyang Joint Declaration.
So there’s a lot happening in North Korea, and a lot of meetings will happen in and around the U.N. on that.
President Trump tweeted that the Pyongyang declaration between Moon and Kim was, quote, “very exciting.” A lot of us who’ve looked at it and scrutinized it a bit more, with the background of previous negotiations with North Korea and knowing a bit about what the North Koreans mean when they say certain things, have been less impressed.
In the declaration, the North – Kim Jung-un agreed that he would allow inspectors in for the dismantlement of the Yongbyon reactor and also the Dongchang-ri rocket-testing facility, which is the first time he’s said that. But there’s a lot less there than meets the eye. For one thing, the Yongbyon reactor, North Korea has committed to dismantle several times already – in the 1990s in the agreed framework; in the 2000s in the six-party talks. So they were supposed to dismantle a long time ago.
Also, Yongbyon is a plutonium reactor. It’s old and decrepit. It still produces plutonium, and is therefore dangerous, but it’s not where the action is. The action is in North Korea’s highly enriched uranium facilities. And we don’t know where they are. But the estimates are they are cranking out a nuclear weapon or two a year with HEU. And that is not on the table.
The Dongchang-ri rocket-testing facility is also old. It’s for the liquid-fueled rockets that North Korea used to launch missiles until they developed the so-called Hwasong-15, which is a solid-fueled rocket, solid-fueled missile, and therefore also, like their HEU program, something they can hide.
So the North Koreans have agreed to shut down, with inspectors, these two old facilities that we can see from satellite but have not put on the table the most dangerous weapons they’re developing, which were the cause of this crisis in the first place. It’s a little bit like we were negotiating to buy their Dodge Dart and a Ford pickup for 30 years, and now they’ve told us, now that they’re on cinderblocks in the front lawn, we can have them. But we know they’ve got a Lexus and a BMW in the garage and they won’t let us at it. And they’re asking a very high price.
The words they use are corresponding measures. But the North Koreans mean by that ending all sanctions, a peace declaration ending the Korean war, ending military exercises, ending nuclear umbrella, the nuclear-weapons protection the U.S. gives to Japan and Korea.
So bottom line is it doesn’t appear that the Moon Jae-in summit did much more than continue a kind of atmosphere and pageantry leading into President Trump’s next summit.
The meetings in the U.N. worth watching around this are, first of all, it hasn’t been announced, but I understand President Trump will have a bilateral with Moon Jae-in of Korea and with Abe of Japan. Moon Jae-in will try to convince the president that North Korea is really serious and he should move quickly to another summit with Kim Jong-un.
Abe is going to have the opposite view, which is skepticism; there’s not a lot there. And in particular, the Japanese will be worried about the president’s suggestion in June 12th at Singapore that he is eager to get U.S. troops off the peninsula, which would leave not only Korea but Japan very exposed; so very different positions from Japan and Korea in the two summits the president has. But publicly, Abe and Moon will both say they’re very supportive of the president; he’s doing a great job. They’ve learned how to manage the public diplomacy and public relations with President Trump.
The other thing that’ll sort of cast a shadow over all of this is the trade war with China and the president’s statement to The Wall Street Journal a few days ago that Japan is next. So the Japanese will be very worried about that. But the Japanese are also worried about the U.S.-China escalating trade war because it’s happening in the context of production networks across Asia that involve Japanese, Korean, and other companies.
And then the last little thing I’d put in, and maybe as a segue to Jon – although Heather can go next, of course – is that Abe is supposed to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. And that’s a big step forward for the Japanese. And it’s being interpreted by analysts in Tokyo – correctly, I think – as a little bit defiant of President Trump; a little bit of a declaration or a statement that, like other world leaders, Abe is going to do his own thing, because Donald Trump is not helping him out the way he had hoped on North Korea and trade. We’ll see where that goes, but it’s an interesting sidebar to the entire thing.
And then final point. Secretary Pompeo is going to try to chair a U.N. Security Council ministerial with his counterparts on North Korea next Thursday. It’s possible the Chinese and Russians could block it, but I think keep an eye out for that, it will probably happen. So that’s the Asia and North Korea trade perspective from me. Thanks, Colm.
MR. QUINN: Thank you, Mike.
I’m going to bring in Heather Conley now.
Heather, whenever you’re ready.
Johnny (sp), do us a favor and get Heather through.
OPERATOR: All right. And, Heather, your line is open.
HEATHER A. CONLEY: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
Good afternoon everyone. What I’m focusing on during the General Assembly will be President Trump’s bilateral meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Certainly on President Macron’s mind will be two issues: Iran and Idlib.
First on Iran – and this is really both for the French and the British on the Security Council – what is the plan on Iran? Obviously, the Europeans are deeply impacted by the U.S. snapback of sanctions and the secondary sanctions that will be firmly imposed on November the 4th. But what they’ve been witnessing over the last several weeks is President Rouhani, President Erdogan and President Putin meeting frequently to discuss the future of Idlib and the challenges that remain, but not the U.S. perspective and certainly not cluing in the Europeans. So this will be President Macron’s chance to really press the president on what the U.S. policy approach is to Iran. And clearly, Idlib and the potential for foreign fighters to cross the Turkish border and potentially to stabilize Turkey and potentially onwards to Europe is foremost on the minds of President Macron.
It will be interesting to watch the body language. President Macron certainly saw President Trump at the NATO summit in July, but certainly, the disappointment after a successful state visit and really understanding where that relationship is. President Trump will visit Paris in November for the French Peace Forum that honors the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War, so we’ll continue to see if we get clues about President Trump’s upcoming visit to Paris.
As for Prime Minister Theresa May, again, also the last time she sat down with President Trump was when he visited London in July after the NATO summit. Iran will certainly be on her list, but Russia, and this is – we’re all watching whether Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have their meeting. Really, what is the post-Helsinki policy agenda after Ambassador Bolton’s meeting with Nikolai Patrushev? We just – we still don’t have a way forward on policy. But, of course, today’s announcement of more sanctions against Russian individuals and the, really, the spectacle of the U.K. providing the imagery of the two Russians that were in Salisbury and then their press conference, this, again, is a bit farcical. It would be interesting to see how President Trump describes that incident and how he supports Prime Minister Theresa May. I’m sure she will inform him of the Brexit conversation, particularly after the Salzburg council meeting.
And I just – one last thought. Again, as we look at Russia policy, Russia, how it will play, both in Mike’s area on North Korea, the sanctions that it is violating on North Korea, its role it’s playing in Iran as well as domestically, we will be very focused on any comments that President Trump says throughout his time at the General Assembly, giving us some clues on future U.S. policy towards Russia.
And with that, Colm, I’ll send it back to you.
MR. QUINN: Thank you, Heather.
Our final speaker, Jon Alterman.
JON B. ALTERMAN: Thanks very much, Colm.
I think this is a different mood than there was last year. Last year, there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty about what President Trump would be like and what he would do and how to talk to him. I think a lot of leaders actually stayed away last year because they were afraid of getting caught somehow between not wanting to offend President Trump, but not wanting to do anything with President Trump would get them in trouble with the voters at home.
I think people have sort of figured out how to deal with that. I think they’ve sort of figured out how to deal with the president. We have the example of President Macron who met with him last week in – last year in New York and had a successful, you know, meeting over Bastille Day and has a decent working relationship with the president.
We have the examples of President Xi and Kim Jong-un who have a more mixed set of outcomes from dealing with the president. We have the negative examples of Prime Ministers Turnbull and Merkel and Trudeau who all somehow got on the wrong side of President Trump. So I think people have a better sense of what kind of approaches work, what kinds don’t work. And I think world leaders are a little less uncertain about how they’re – they have more of a plan of how to deal with the president.
I think – well, Mike is right that, traditionally, the huge emphasis in New York has been on the quiet bilats behind closed doors. Everybody knows that President Trump doesn’t like doing those kinds of meetings, doesn’t stay on script. I think from a U.S. perspective, there will be less emphasis on setting up all the bilats because, ultimately, the president makes decisions and that’s not the president’s forum or format for making decisions. And I think you’ll see much less emphasis there.
From the rest of the world’s point of view, there are two big issues that matter, which are going to be in play. One is Iran, as Heather suggested, and the other is Palestine. I think on Iran, there’s very little support for the U.S. approach toward unwinding the JCPOA, partly because what it tells you about the approach to Iran and the best way to deal with Iran and Iran’s behavior, but also because of what it tells you about the United States and the U.S.’s willingness to compromise with allies over issues of concern.
The U.S. approach to Iran has certainly been blunted by the rules of Security Council debate. Originally, the president was going to give a – was going to have a whole session on Iran and they’ve broadened the scope to avoid getting into a match where the president has to be with President Rouhani in the same room. So in some ways, process is beginning to win out in that.
But I think the world is really concerned about the Iran issue and is trying to find ways to maybe shape U.S. behavior because of a sense that this – the U.S. just telling the world this is how it’s going to be and everybody thinks that is not the way the world wants to handle Iran.
The other issue is in many ways the archetypal U.N. issue, which is Palestine, which has been a U.N. issue from before the U.N. On that, U.S. policy has really walked away from where the rest of the world is. The U.S. has defunded a lot of organizations, defunded UNRWA, stopped supporting a lot of projects in the Palestinian community. And what I think you’re going to see there is the world is going to try to find a way to make up for the United States without confronting the United States. My sense is that they’re really writing off U.S. cooperation for the time being and they’re seeing if they can replace the United States. It’s a different approach.
I think for what I’m looking for, I think the president’s speeches will have much less bomb-throwing than there was last year. I don’t think you’re going to see the “little rocket man” kind of attacks. You will see a clear assertion of U.S. views. But most importantly, President Trump isn’t new for the world. There was a way in which last year’s General Assembly was heard, was the president’s introduction to the world and the world was looking very carefully. I think now you’re going to see the world try to think, try to figure out how working collectively they can move the United States in a way that they found hard to do last year.
Thank you. Happy to take your questions.
MR. QUINN: All right.
John (sp), I think that’s a perfect time to hand over to questions, if you could just explain it to our – to our callers. Thank you.
OPERATOR: All right.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
And our first question comes from the line of George Condon from National Journal. Please go ahead.
Q: Great. Thanks much. I wanted to follow on what Jon just said. But first, I was going to note Mike had mentioned the bilaterals and I just wanted – the White House today confirmed that they’ll have six bilaterals with South Korea, Egypt, France, Israel, Japan and the U.K. So that – so that – the South Korea one is confirmed.
But on Jon’s point, you said that, you know, compared to last year, there was a lot of uncertainty. My question is, after all the acts that the president has taken on Palestine, the International Criminal Court, refugees, human rights, is patience wearing out with the other leaders with the whole “America first” rhetoric and policies where they’re willing to stand up to him more? Or is the fact that he’s still the head of the world’s only superpower, does that keep you from doing that?
MR. ALTERMAN: I’m happy to start and then I’m sure my colleagues have views. World leaders don’t do what they like, they do what they think they need to do to advance their national interests. I think it’s very unlikely to see many people confronting President Trump. You are likely to see many people thinking of ways to undermine President Trump because they think that the approach that the U.S. has articulated isn’t going to take the world in the direction it needs to go.
But it seems to me that after last year and after, you know, the time the president’s had in office, there’s a lot more – a lot more introspection about the best way to move the president and the best way to move policy and what you need the president’s agreement on and how you might be able to get the president’s acquiescence and just work with others toward a different goal.
MR. QUINN: Mike or Heather, do you want to jump in there or are you fine to move on?
MR. GREEN: It’s Mike. I would – I would add a few points. First, the Abe-Rouhani meeting, if it happens – I think it will – is an indication of what you’re talking about, George, that some of these leaders are just willing to toe the line as much in an era of “America first” and maybe doing a little bit of their own outreach to show their own publics that that’s the case.
You also have things which are more subtle, but there when you look for them. For example, Japan-China relations are improving this year. Xi Jinping and Abe have started patching over some of their differences. There’s still a structural and geopolitical rivalry there, but they’re both uncertain of what Donald Trump’s going to do. And if the president puts auto tariffs on Japan as he’s threatened to do at the same time he’s putting hundreds of billions of tariffs on China, you will see the lion sit down with the lamb, you’ll start seeing Japan and China in something I would never have predicted otherwise, cooperating to try to constrain the president’s love for tariffs through the WTO and other ways. There’s a limit to that. There’s deep distrust. So there are things happening along the lines you described.
On the other hand, in the bilats on Asia, Moon Jae-in desperately needs Donald Trump to move quickly with a summit with Kim Jong-un to keep this appearance of momentum going for his own domestic politics. He’s staked a lot on North Korean diplomacy. His polls were sagging before this September 18th trip to Pyeongyang. So he can’t confront the president, he needs him.
And Abe, although he’s much more nervous about where the president’s going with North Korea, can’t let that show because he doesn’t want North Korea or China, despite some slight improvement in relations, he doesn’t want those countries to see any daylight between the U.S. and Japan. And in fact, at a professional level, the sort of Mattis-Pompeo military level, the relations with Japan, Australia, they will tell you, are the best they’ve ever been.
And so it may be a bit different in Europe. But for the Asian allies who are in a more dangerous neighborhood, who need things out of Donald Trump, I think you’re going to see less confrontation. It puts Abe in a tough position because there’s a G6 taking shape within the G7 as everyone tries to manage Donald Trump. And the Japanese are trying to prevent a split within the G7 between the Canadians and Europeans on one hand and the Americans on the other. The Japanese are desperately trying to bridge that because they don’t want to confront the president if they can help it.
MR. ALTERMAN: And just to remind, last year President Macron met with Rouhani and the meeting actually ran long. So, you know, it may be that you have allies trying to meet with the Iranians to deliver something for the president. It’s not necessarily a sign of dissonance. It may be a sign of trying to build a closer relationship, just to keep that interpretation in mind.
MS. CONLEY: Well, and I would just say from the European perspective I think there’s an attempt to fill the gap as best they can. When the U.S. makes decisions unilaterally, I think the challenge for the Europe is that they just are simply insufficient to replace the United States. So they’ve seen before an assault on multilateralism. They’ve seen this before, you know, the U.S. position on ICC or the Human Rights Council. That’s not new. That was certainly part of the discussion in the Bush administration. But it is – for me, the fundamental withdrawal from the JCPOA, where the Europeans are attempting to try to fill that gap and they just simply cannot. They can – they really can’t hedge too much. They can try to flirt with Beijing. Certainly there’s openings to Moscow. But the Europeans are so firmly tied to the U.S. it is very difficult for them to have a meaningful way of balancing against the U.S. and its policies today.
MR. QUINN: OK. Let’s jump on to the next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the line of James Reinl from Al Jazeera. Please go ahead.
Q: Oh, hi, guys. Thanks so much for the briefing.
I was actually really interested in some of the things that you guys have been talking about already, and I’m going to ask you if you can perhaps go a little bit deeper on it. Jon Alterman’s comments about this General Assembly being a place in which former or U.S. allies and other international players are seeking ways to frustrate U.S. policy objectives, the two that I’m interested in are the two that Jon mentioned: Iran, and of course Donald Trump’s Security Council meeting on September 25th about Iran. And also on Israel-Palestine, obviously, there’s going to be Netanyahu and Abbas there. I’m interested in what approaches you think international players are going to use to frustrate the administration’s activities.
MR. ALTERMAN: So I would be very cautious about using the word “frustrate” because I think what is operative is they’ll try to be effective without invoking the ire of the administration, all right? I mean, I don’t think anybody wants to provoke the administration, or not many want to provoke the administration. Instead, it’s if you don’t have the Americans calling for the kinds of outcomes that Americans have often pulled for, how do you achieve those outcomes anyway? And so you’ll see – may have their own set of bilateral meetings and their own efforts to move things forward, and may have, you know, all the right people are in the room. So I think you may see things constructed in a way not to provoke the United States, but in some ways to supplement what many countries see as the inadequate U.S. effort in several directions.
MR. QUINN: All right. Let’s jump on to the next.
OPERATOR: We’ll go to the line of Howard LaFranchi from Christian Science Monitor. Please go ahead.
Q: Yeah. I wanted to follow up on George’s question and specifically ask Jon, but then other can join in too. But, Jon, you talked about you don’t expect to see the fiery – some of the – or the provocative comments that Trump made in his speech last year, “little rocket man” and things. But I’m wondering, too, you know, there was the theme last year in his speech of sovereignty and nation-states, and really sort of it sounded like – almost like a rejection of the – of the system that – and the – and the house that he was addressing, the U.N. system, international community, you know, international organizations. And I’m wondering if you – and also, we’ve seen that then this meeting that they’re going to have in the Security Council, yeah, it’s going to have a nonproliferation theme, but then they’ve also added sovereignty. So I’m wondering if you, you know, expect to see the sort of – the U.S., under President Trump, you know, kind of moving away from, you know, international cooperation, moving away from international organizations, for that theme to continue, and how you expect others to hear that if it is emphasized.
MR. ALTERMAN: Well, so, you know, the national security adviser of the United States once said if the U.N. Secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. He also said if I were redoing the Security Council I’d have one permanent member, the United States. So the president is not going to have a lot of inputs to the speech to talk about the glories of world government.
That being said, I don’t see the president striking out at a lot of entities. I don’t (think there’s any point to it ?). I think there’s going to be, as you rightly say, the same focus on sovereignty, the same concern with international organizations, the same insistence that everybody follow – that every country follow its own national interest. But that’s not really bomb-throwing. That’s not provocation. That’s the president’s articulation of his worldview, which he’s articulated a lot over the last year and which wouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.
MR. QUINN: I don’t know if anyone else wants to jump in there.
MR. GREEN: It’s Mike. I would – I agree with Jon. And I think some early clues will come out of the Montana speech and the other rallies because the president and his political advisors are primarily speaking to their own base, not to the people in the room and the United Nations. And so some of the themes in the Montana speech were sovereignty, but a lot of it was a self-report card, you know, praising the accomplishment the president points to with North Korea and so forth. Even though a lot of experts don’t see a lot of there there yet, it plays well with the crowd. And I think you’ll get some of that.
It will be interesting to see how much trade is in this because he’s increasingly, you know, looking at trade as the – as the area where he can – not because of the U.S. Constitution, because of the Omnibus Trade bill of 1988 and other things, and Section 301 and 201 and so forth, he has a lot of tools to just impose tariffs when he wants to. And that’s becoming part – an increasingly conspicuous and for much of the world problematic part of the America first that you didn’t have as much of a year ago in the UNGA. So you won’t hear “rocket man.” You’ll probably hear him praise Kim Jong-un and the progress they’ve made. But you might hear – I would not be surprised if you heard more about trade, the one area where he’s really found a club he can wield without a lot of constraints.
MS. CONLEY: So I just – to add on that, I think what will be very interesting – you know, we focus on the president’s General Assembly speech, but to listen to the other leaders. If last year was the year of sovereignty, this in some ways will be the year of defense of multilateralism. And it will be interesting to see if the U.S. position is increasingly isolated, whether it’s on Iran, some of the issues that Jon raised on the Middle East, ICC, whether in some ways that’s not the frustrated word, but it’s in defense of a different international system. I think that, to me, is one interesting aspect of it.
I agree with Mike. I think the president will certainly focus on North Korea and that triumph, and point to the positives of his – of the implementation of his policy. But in some ways the response is really going to be found in the other leaders’ speech of how they are viewing their policies in respect and in contrast to the president’s vision.
MR. QUINN: OK. And let us – let us jump ahead, then, to the next question.
OPERATOR: All right. We now have a question from the line of Biolai Genger (ph) with Jess (sp) Security. Please go ahead.
Q: Yes, hi. Thanks very much for doing the call.
I have just a couple of questions. One is the corruption UNGA meeting that Haley – Ambassador Haley was going to be organizing. What is that designed to achieve? Is that going to be of any note specifically?
And then, on the – on the issue of Palestine and the moves that the U.S. has made and this idea that others may try to fill in, what would that look like and how effective can that be? And will that not provoke the U.S.? Because theoretically it’s trying to achieve something by the sort of belligerent moves it’s been making against the Palestinians, right?
MR. GREEN: Well, I – it’s Mike Green. I will try to answer the first question since I raised the Nikki Haley-chaired meeting on corruption.
She’s going to single out Venezuela and clobber them. And this is my take, but Ambassador Haley has been more forward-leaning on human rights and democracy issues than the president or Secretary Pompeo or John Bolton, or before him McMaster. And I think this is an indirect way of getting at that issue and getting it in front of the Security Council. And Exhibit A apparently is going to be Venezuela. Other colleagues may know more about it, but that’s what I understand about that particular Security Council session.
MS. CONLEY: This is Heather. I think on the corruption – and I’m very interesting in exactly what they want to push other than Venezuela because this illicit financing question is – actually is rearing its head vis-à-vis Russia. The Danske Bank revelation a few months ago was – the ABLV, the Latvian bank which was implicated in, you know, violating North Korea sanctions. This question of illicit financing is something that is part of Russia policy, but also maintaining the sanctions regime. So I’ll be very interested to see what developments come from it. It really does need to be a global push. But I really haven’t heard the U.S. voice in that very strongly, so looking forward to it.
MR. ALTERMAN: You know, on funding for Palestinian institutions, I would expect that there will be some lip service to the president’s determination to negotiate something and to put forward a plan, and quiet agreement that Palestinian kids have to be able to go to school and they need health care. And some of the Gulf states and other donors will provide the necessary funds because some of the most affected countries, like Jordan, are strategically important to the U.S. and its allies, and nobody wants Jordan to go under. So I think it’s not going to be a slap in the face to the president, it’s you’re not going to fund it so we will. But I would expect that the world will try very hard to fill what they see as the vacuum left by American assets. And the U.S. is focused on its own plan and will do so accordingly. I just – I don’t – I don’t see this as being a sign of a fight. I see this as a sign of sort of people proceeding in parallel efforts. Even though they affect each other, they’re still parallel efforts and they don’t intersect and conflict.
MR. QUINN: OK. That was our final question. John (sp), I know on the AT&T line you want to remind people it’s star-1 if there are any more final questions. Other than that, I think – oh, we have – sorry, we have a question from McClatchy here. Go ahead.
OPERATOR: All right. Please go ahead. Your line is open.
Q: Thanks so much for doing this.
I had a question about Israel. How does U.S. relations with Israel going to play out in UNGA? Haley has obviously taken a position that there is anti-Israel bias in the United Nations and been pushing in that arena. And in – and in the same sense, how does conversations about Iran at the Security Council – what is the significance of that in relation to U.S. relations with Israel?
MR. ALTERMAN: I can’t remember a time when the U.S. and Israeli leadership were as closely aligned on their strategic orientation to the region. I think the idea that the U.N. is systematically biased against Israel is an idea that U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. have been putting forward since my old boss Daniel Patrick Moynihan led an effort to criticize the Zionism is racism resolution in I think 1975. This is an old trope, and I think it’s not – it’s not a change.
The fact is that on Iran the president and the prime minister see more eye to eye than either one sees in almost any country in the world. And I don’t think the president does it because of Israel, but Israel will do what it can to reinforce the president’s position and the president will do what he can to reinforce Israeli security in his mind. And that’s a – I don’t see that as an event. I see that as a reinforcement of existing trends.
Q: That was Jon, right?
MR. ALTERMAN: Yeah, it was.
Q: OK, great. Just making sure. Thank you.
MR. ALTERMAN: It’s Mike Green. He fixed all the problems in Asia. He wants to move to the Middle East. (Laughs.)
MR. GREEN: You can have them.
MR. ALTERMAN: (Laughs.)
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
And Zhenhua Lu from South Morning – South China Morning – please go ahead.
Q: Yes, Zhenhua Lu from South China Morning Post.
I have a question about the announced U.N. ministerial meeting on North Korea chaired by Pompeo. The State Department announced this on Tuesday. So I wonder, who will – except Pompeo, who are those ministers who will participate in this meeting? And what is the agenda of this meeting, what they are going to talk about, specifically about North Korea and what they want to achieve from this meeting? Thanks.
MR. GREEN: So it’s Mike Green.
I don’t know the details of the participants and so forth. I know a bit about the agenda and I know they’re doing it. Of course, it’s going to be the foreign ministers from the P5 members and then the other associate members of the U.N. Security Council. Often for these meetings they’ll invite South Korea and Japan’s foreign ministers to participate or sit in.
The message I think Secretary Pompeo is bringing to that group is that they’re moving forward with negotiations with North Korea. Secretary Pompeo, Steve Biegun, his special envoy, are prepared to have substantive meetings with their North Korean counterparts before Kim Jong-un/Trump summit. But North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and his government have said let’s go right to the summit. They want to go right to President Trump, because they want to try to get big symbolic agreements like a peace declaration without any details on dismantling nuclear weapons.
The tough call for Secretary Pompeo is does he pick up on the Pyongyang declaration and try to get an early harvest, try to get the North Koreans to agree to dismantle Yongbyon, instead of what the U.S. government really wants as a first step towards complete denuclearization, which is a declaration of all of North Korea’s sites and programs.
But the North Koreans aren’t putting that on the table. They’re not talking about it. And so I think that will be one item, how to move forward the negotiations and what the U.S. wants the other members of the P5 to push the North Koreans to do. And the second aspect is sanctions, where the administration’s position is that the sanctions should not come off.
The administration has been adding one to three entities every other week, often Chinese or Russian entities, on the sanctions list. The military exercises have been frozen in the region, but there’s a lot of U.S. firepower forward deployed, more than there was two years ago. And the Security Council Sanctions Committee has been pretty robust and has accused North Korea of cheating, but also has found a lot of evidence, to Heather’s point, although it’s the Security Council, so they can’t say it explicitly, because Russia’s a member, but pointing to Russia cheating.
And so it’s the carrot and the stick; you know, pushing forward what they want the message to be to North Korea on the diplomatic side, and making sure everyone sticks together on sanctions. China’s been pretty good on enforcing the sanctions at the border; still very hard, for example – it’s still hard, in fact, to get things to North Korea that even NGOs that do humanitarian relief have said their operations are being affected.
But China has not been so good at ship-to-ship transfers, banking, and things that are not controlled at the border. So that will definitely come up. And Beijing’s perspective is, although they don’t say it publicly, Russia is cheating and backfilling when China enforces sanctions, and that’s not fair. So the dynamic will be very interesting.
MR. QUINN: OK, guys. If – it seems like there’s no more questions. I think we might be able to call it there.
Just a bit of housekeeping. We will be sending out a transcript of this call very shortly after this call is concluded. So please take a look in your in boxes. If you do need anything during the week of UNGA, please get in touch with myself, Colm Quinn, my colleague, Emma Colbran, or, of course, Andrew Schwartz.
I’d like to thank Jon, Mike, and Heather for joining me today from all over the country, actually. And, yes, again, if there is anything you ever need, please reach out to us at CSIS. I’m more than happy to help. And thank you again.
MR. ALTERMAN: And for the record, Mike, it’s 75 and sunny in Washington too. So there.
MR. QUINN: Yeah. It’s a little gloomy, but – (inaudible). (Laughter.)
MR. GREEN: Thank you all.
MR. QUINN: Anyway, thank you all so much.