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News Brief: North Korea Summit Plans Continue, Europe And Iran, NBA Playoffs

May 31, 2018
Originally published on May 31, 2018 1:13 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So he may have led a deadly attack on a South Korean navy ship, also may have hacked Sony, but the welcome mat was out for him in New York City.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Right. We're talking about Kim Yong Chol. The North Korean official is in the U.S. meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Last night, the two met for what was described as a working dinner. Pompeo sent out a few pics on his Twitter feed, along with the menu - steak, corn and cheese. They are laying the groundwork for an on-again, off-again summit between President Trump and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un. That summit was supposed to take place on June 12. Then it was canceled by President Trump last week. There are actually at least three sets of negotiations this week between North Korea and the U.S., suggesting that this summit might actually happen.

GREENE: All right, let's bring in NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.

And Michele, a good steak and some corn makes it sound like a dinner any of us could've had, but is this meeting really unusual otherwise?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: It is unusual. I mean, Kim Yong Chol is the highest-level North Korean official to come to the U.S. for talks since 2000. And by the way, he was on a sanctions list, so he needed special permission to come here. But what we're told - I mean, we saw this image of the two of them looking out at the New York City skyline. And officials said that Pompeo was talking to Kim Yong Chol about the possibilities for a bright future for North Korea. The officials said there are other talks going on, as you alluded to. U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim is leading a delegation in the DMZ working on the agenda for this summit. There's a U.S. team in Singapore working on logistics because that's where the summit's due to take place. But the officials said these are the top dogs - you know, the lead figures in trying to set the stage for this meeting - that is, Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol.

GREENE: Top dogs in part because Kim Yong Chol is so close to the dictator. And I've got to say, I'm just fascinated by this guy. He seems to have been central in so much awful stuff - I mean, that deadly attack on the South Korean ship; I mean, hacking into Sony. What more can you say about why the U.S. would want to risk bringing him into New York City and - despite the sanctions on him - and letting him here to plan this?

KELEMEN: Well, because he's the one with influence, as you said. He's the one who's close to Kim Jong Un. And by the way, this isn't the first time Secretary Pompeo has met with him. Pompeo met with him during his two trips to Pyongyang setting this meeting up. Kim Yong Chol is a - the former spy chief. That's why he's blamed for some of these things. His title now is vice president of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party. But the main thing is - is that he's close to Kim Jong Un. And the fact that they're sending him here is pretty important. He also has been involved in inter-Korean affairs. So there's some suggestion that, you know, that's what he's here to discuss, that the - you know, the North Koreans want a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War - at least want something short of that. But, of course, the U.S. wants to make clear that the North has to get rid of its nuclear weapons stockpile if it wants that - those kind of security guarantees.

GREENE: OK, so all this planning happening as the White House is saying - at least for the moment - that they're going forward with plans for this summit. I'm sure we'll be talking much more about this. That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

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GREENE: All right, so European powers are supposed to present Iran today with a plan to save that nuclear agreement.

MARTIN: Right. With the U.S. preparing to reimpose sanctions against Iran in just a couple of months, Europeans are now scrambling to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which President Trump pulled out of earlier this month. Iran wants European countries to give them economic guarantees, which they hope would counter the effect of the U.S. sanctions. And today's the day that Iran has asked to see what Europe is going to offer up.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Peter Kenyon has covered every twist and turn in the story of this nuclear agreement. He joins us from Istanbul.

Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So what sorts of things could Europe actually offer? What could Europe do to keep this nuclear agreement going without the United States?

KENYON: Right. Well, sparing you the wonky details, there are things called blocking statutes. Europe could enact laws designed to insulate companies from the impact of the sanctions. Some other tools might be different lines of credit, working directly with the Iranian Central Bank. Experts have been going over a number of mechanisms. Iran, by the way, says a lot of time has been wasted earlier this year when European leaders apparently thought they could change Trump's mind about pulling out of the deal. That didn't work. American sanctions are on the horizon. And one official says intensive talks between Iran and Europe are now underway. How quickly they might bring out results - that's a question.

GREENE: If blocking statutes is not wonky, I don't think I want to know what wonky is.

KENYON: (Laughter).

GREENE: But...

KENYON: (Unintelligible).

GREENE: So blocking statutes - this would allow the deal to go forward in theory or in some part because businesses that would be really rocked by the U.S. sanctions could actually keep doing business with Iran, and that's sort of one pillar that would keep this deal in place.

KENYON: That's the idea, but it will likely come down to individual decisions, company by company. I mean, if your company does a lot of business in the U.S., the risk of losing that market will weigh very heavily against trying to keep access to a much smaller Iranian market. Iran says it is in talks with some very big economies - China and India. But a major refinery owner in India tells Reuters it's making plans to end its imports from Iran. Russia's Lukoil is joining French petroleum company Total. They say they're winding down their Iran projects if they don't get waivers. So with sanctions on the horizon, it's going to come down to, what does it mean for the bottom line?

GREENE: Say more about what this moment means for Iran, Peter. I mean, they were willing to enter into this deal. Now the United States pulls out. I mean, what is Iran's thinking here as it decides how to play this?

KENYON: Yeah, this is an unusual moment for Iran. I mean, they faced off against six world powers for years in the nuclear talks. It's used to being alone on one side of the table. Now it's Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, plus Iran, all opposing this U.S. decision to pull out. That plays well for President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran politically, but the economic impact could be severe. I mean, getting out from under sanctions was the whole point for Iran. And in Tehran, this U.S. withdrawal from the deal is being seen as a gift to hard-liners. They've stepped up their attacks. The nuclear deal was Rouhani's biggest foreign policy achievement. I mean, does that mean that Rouhani might be succeeded in the next election by a more hard-line candidate? A lot of questions now in Iran.

GREENE: NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking to us from Istanbul. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: Thanks, David.

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GREENE: Love this time of year - it is time for the NBA Finals, which begin this evening.

MARTIN: And for a record fourth straight year, the Golden State Warriors will take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. And there has been a little blowback on all this predictability, though. Yesterday, LeBron was asked by a reporter if this was bad for the league.

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LEBRON JAMES: Teams have had their opportunities to beat the Cavs over last four years, and team have had opportunities to beat the Warriors over the last four years. And if you want to see somebody else in the postseason, then you got to beat them.

GREENE: (Laughter) LeBron James there.

MARTIN: Right, you got to beat them.

GREENE: You got to beat them. That's the message from LeBron James. And NPR's Tom Goldman is in Oakland, Calif., for the start of this series.

Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: And if you can't beat them, join them, and that's what I'm doing with you guys.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Nice. I like that.

GOLDMAN: Thank you.

GREENE: So, I mean, LeBron makes it sound so simple. If you don't want the same two teams every year, beat us. But what does this rivalry mean for the NBA - good thing, bad thing, little bit of both?

GOLDMAN: Well, that's - you know, that's very subjective. It's history, though. Warriors and Cavs are the first teams in major pro sports to play each other for a title four years in a row. And yeah, the blowback that Rachel mentioned - you know, mentioned by people who want more parity, they want to see others advance to the finals - I personally think we like dynasties, to cheer for and against them. Golden State will be considered a dynasty with another championship. And I think larger-than-life athletes - that goes for them, too - and none larger or playing better basketball than LeBron James right now.

MARTIN: Right. I remember growing up - I mean, it was all about the Celtics and the Lakers. I mean, wasn't - I haven't looked this up, but they met on the court a lot in the NBA Finals.

GOLDMAN: They did, but they did not meet four times in a row.

MARTIN: Oh.

GREENE: Wow. They met a lot, but yeah, the - not the consistency year after year.

GOLDMAN: That's right.

MARTIN: Wow.

GREENE: Well, I mean, it didn't look like this was going to happen for a little while, right, Tom? I mean, the Cavs and the Warriors barely escaped the last round. Both of those series went to seven games. So I guess beyond maybe being exhausted, how is this series shaping up?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, well, you know, they both had rough patches this year - Cleveland much more so, losing star point guard Kyrie Irving before the season started, then injuries - they had injuries - major roster shake-up in February. By comparison, Golden State is doing fine. The Warriors' problems, if you want to call them that, have been largely self-inflicted. They've been prone to maybe more lapses this year. You know, they get kind of bored and tired with this process of getting through the 82-game regular season and then two months more of the playoffs, but they're able to rouse themselves, play their brilliant style of basketball, and they did that against Houston. Both teams have some baggage, but they also have some injuries that are notable. Andre Iguodala is the closest thing on the Warriors to a LeBron slayer. He's defended James well in the past. He's out with a leg injury. Kevin Love for the Cavaliers is - has a concussion. He's still going through the protocol with that.

GREENE: Am I right? LeBron has only beaten the Warriors once, right? So if the Warriors win and beat him for the third time, does that affect LeBron's legacy?

GOLDMAN: Oh, I think the legacy is pretty intact. You know, what he's done already in this postseason - getting a team that's pretty spotty this far - tonight, he's going to play in his 101st game of the entire season. He's playing entire games in the playoffs not getting subbed out. He's producing gaudy numbers every game. You know, at 33, some say he's redefining when exactly are the peak years for basketball players. It's like he's the Tom Brady of hoops.

GREENE: That's amazing. NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.