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Ex-US secretary of state says strength the key to negotiating with N. Korea: interview

Former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz poses for a picture in a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun at his office in Stanford, California. (Mainichi)

STANFORD, California -- George Shultz, former secretary of state under President Ronald Regan, said that strength is the key to successful U.S. negotiations with North Korea in a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.

"I think it's always true that strength and diplomacy go together. If you have no strength and you try to (make a) negotiation, it's not gonna work," said Shultz, who was involved in negotiations with the former Soviet Union in ending the Cold War in the late 1980s.

The former secretary of state said that current negotiations on North Korea's denuclearization are different from past ones where Pyongyang did not keep its word to eliminate its nuclear program even when the country received economic or energy assistance. But this time, said Shultz, "there will be no concessions without some substantive real action on the part of North Korea."

North Korea's earlier backtracking from its readiness to negotiate over abandonment of its nuclear program brought an announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump to call off the meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Shultz said that the move by the U.S. president as well as his subsequent decision to reinstate the summit plan following North Korea's indication of going ahead with denuclearization, were justifiable. "I think in the Korean case he's doing well," said the former top U.S. diplomat, referring to President Trump.

In regard to Trump's decision to walk away from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in which the U.S. and five other countries agreed with Teheran to suspend the Iranian nuclear program in return for the lifting of related sanctions, Shultz said that the current U.S. president is the kind of person who is not satisfied with "a poor deal."

"People often say that his walking away from the Iranian deal makes people wonder if he can be counted on. I interpret that a different way. I say that it shows that a poor deal is not going to be satisfactory. It's got to be a strong deal," Shultz said.

Going back to the North Korean situation, Shultz said the Washington-Pyongyang summit on June 12 in Singapore will only be called a success if North Korea agrees to substantive steps to eliminate its nuclear weapons.

"There's a phrase from Ronald Reagan's negotiations we had with the Soviet Union: 'Trust, but verify.' So there has to be immediate verification by people who know what they're looking at. And I would think it would be well to have experts from the United States, Japan, South Korea, and China as a delegation to do that," he said.

Shultz said a turning point in the Cold War came when the United States succeeded in deploying Pershing ballistic nuclear missiles in Germany as a deterrent against the Soviet Union. "They (the Soviets) saw that strength of purpose and willingness to deploy them. They thought the Pershing missiles could reach Moscow. So after that things began to get better," said the former secretary of state.

A similar strength is needed for Washington in facing off with Pyongyang in denuclearization talks, Shultz emphasized. "I think that there has to be the perception on the part of North Korea that there is ruinous strength confronting them, and the way to get rid of it is to get rid of their nuclear weapons. To see their nuclear weapons not as an advantage, but as a disadvantage of something that caused them trouble," he said, adding that economic sanctions are a tool to get North Korea serious about negotiating with the U.S.

Shultz also pointed out the possibility of China playing a major role in the denuclearization process. "China can't really like the prospect that the North Korea problem becomes too acute. South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, will all get nuclear weapons. That has to be a Chinese nightmare. So they have that problem on their hands," he said.

(Japanese original by Hiromi Nagano, Los Angeles Bureau)

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