Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Many Questions Remain On How To Talk To North Korea After U.N. Show Of Unity


The Trump administration is imposing new sanctions on North Korea and anyone doing business with Pyongyang. The news came as diplomats at the United Nations in a show of unity condemned North Korea's nuclear and missile tests. While world leaders agree on the need to step up the pressure, there are many questions about what comes next and how the world can talk North Korea out of the nuclear weapons program. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: This is a week of high-stakes diplomacy. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had his first encounter with his Iranian counterpart Wednesday night and said it was a matter-of-fact conversation about how they view a nuclear deal very differently. But with North Korea, the U.S. has few diplomatic channels.

REX TILLERSON: I don't know whether I can have the same kind of a matter-of-fact discussion with North Korea. We have very, very limited contact with their representative here at the U.N. from time to time. But how the decision maker or the people that are closer to the decision maker are going to behave is something we will have to understand and learn.

KELEMEN: For now the Trump administration has focused on stepping up the pressure. Trump himself used his U.N. debut to blast North Korea's leader as a, quote, "rocket man on a suicide mission." Today he announced new sanctions. And as he sat down for lunch with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, he vowed to do things differently.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The United States has had representatives working on this problem for over 25 years. They have done nothing. That's why we're in the problem that we're in today in addition to frankly other countries not doing what they should have done.

KELEMEN: China, North Korea's biggest trading partner, backed recent U.N. sanctions resolutions but argues that alone won't solve this. China's foreign minister is urging all sides to ease tensions and resume talks. Russia's foreign minister is echoing that, saying there is no alternative to diplomacy. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is also emphasizing the need for a peaceful solution. He addressed the U.N. General Assembly today through an interpreter.


PRESIDENT MOON JAE-IN: (Through interpreter) We do not desire collapse of North Korea. If North Korea makes a decision even now to stand on the right side of history, we are ready to assist North Korea together with the international community.

KELEMEN: Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, told the U.N. that North Korea never had any intention of abandoning its nuclear and missile development and has used talks as a way to buy time. Abe also spoke through an interpreter.


PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE: (Through interpreter) North Korea is attempting to dismiss with a smirk the efforts toward disarmament we have assiduously undertaken over the years. The non-proliferation regime is about to suffer a serious blow from its most confident disruptor ever.

KELEMEN: Abe is praising Trump for standing tough on North Korea. The U.S. is also leaving the door open to negotiations. When he was asked if dialogue is still possible, Trump told reporters, why not? Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.