Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Trump's Vow To End Military Drills With Seoul Stuns Region

President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Singapore.
Associated Press
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Singapore.
Trump's Vow To End Military Drills With Seoul Stuns Region
Trump's Vow To End Military Drills With Seoul Stuns Region GUESTS: Tai Ming Cheung, director, Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at UC San Diego Stephan Haggard, director, Korea-Pacific Program at UC San Diego

>>The stars and stripes wave next to North Korea's red star yesterday as the presidents met in what will go down in history. The meeting is a breakthrough after years of building passion. Here to give us perspective on the circumstances is tie, the director of Institute at San Diego and Stefan who has also done extensive work on North Korea. Thank you gentlemen for joining us. >> Our pleasure. >> Both presidents hope their name will go down in history. Do you think Kim Jong Un or President Trump gained the most from this event? >> I think Kim Jong Un got much of what he wanted. He got on the same stage as President Trump and he gave very little away in terms of substance. So in terms of the grantor in the symbolism, I think Kim Jong Un had a fantastic day. >> Some are saying that President Trump gave away a key bargaining chip without getting much back in return after he said he would cancel his military exercises. What do you think? >> That was probably the biggest surprise of the press conference. That was not contained in the joint statement, but the fact that he denigrated the alliance and said it was expensive, he said that troops might be removed from the Peninsula, that is something the North Koreans have always wanted to do. >> So what do you think China's attitude is? Are they happy or threatened? >> We were just talking about that and looking at the press conference that was held by the state, it is very interesting, they are supportive of this, but one line of information that was revealing and troubling was they said they might be willing to adjust sanctions if progress was made and of course if the sanctions regime starts to unravel as we worry with respect to Iran, then North Korea's bargaining position will improve. >> Also, they have also been pushing this initiative about suspension that the U.S. will suspend military exercises while North Korea also suspends missile testing. The Chinese very much also's office as part of what they would like as well. >> So what do you think that Kim Jong Un hopes to get from this summit? Is it the lifting of sanctions or is it a guarantee that the U.S. won't pursue regime change? >> It is all of that. They fundamentally want to ensure their security and so they need to have a reduction in the threat rate. To do that, they also need to have economic sanctions because they want to preserve the economic reforms. Getting all of this is crucial. For them, they want to be able to do it while ensuring they maintain their own capabilities. >> I think both of you attended a very similar event in Singapore last year to which North Korea was invited. Tell us about that, what happened? >> It was almost at the same time last year where at the Institute, we have been doing what we call in and tracked the dialogue for 30 years. This would bring in government officials and diplomats as well as academics. We had this event in Singapore where they invited the North Korean government officials, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S. Contrast this to today. The North Koreans decided not to come. It was a very very tense meeting. It was 180 degrees in a turnaround of the situation with the diplomatic climate a year ago was very gloomy. Contrast that with what happened yesterday night. >> If you were to put your finger on what has changed about the diplomatic situation, what would you say? >> I think it is a sequence of events that begins with the New Year's speech when Kim Jong Un says he is willing to come to the Olympics. He was in a political ax position to exploit that. But set the first summit, which in turn brought the offer back to President Trump in early March to have a bilateral summit. Than the Chinese have also held summits with Kim Jong Un as well. This has been a process which began around the turn of the year. >> You have both been to North Korea and I wanted to ask you to say a little bit about what it is like. Have you been in the countryside? >> I was there about seven years ago and I also studied China. What was similar was being in North Korea was very similar to what China was before it opened reforms. There was a big contrast between the urban and rural areas there was significant poverty. That was taking place. It seems to me people talk about the new China model as being one way for North Korea. That is one way to think about it if the North Koreans were able to engage and move in terms of engaging. They are in a very difficult situation. Economic reforms have taken a small step forward, but there is a long way to go. >> How would people get news of what happened in Singapore yesterday? >> I doubt they get any news. I think the news in Singapore will be tightly controlled. In the countryside, they barely get electricity, so I don't know if there is much in the way of information. >> Finally, what will you be looking for now as a sign that progress is underway? >> The most important thing is the articulation of a process. We had a number of meetings between the U.S. and North Korea up to the level of the secretary of state twice with Kim Jong Un . Now it is really about the details. This was a summit document that was very light in terms of an overarching timetable. So I think everything now depends on whether the negotiations at the lower levels can yield a framework document, as we saw in the Iran negotiation, which is a big irony. >> The other major countries, China and Japan, they would also have to become involved because when it comes to providing all the carrots in terms of economic issues, everyone will play an even more important role than the U.S. >> Thank you so much for giving us your insight. >> Our pleasure. >> Jeff sessions has dropped another bombshell on immigration authorities by declaring that fear of domestic violence are not grounds for seeking asylum in the U.S. Here to help us understand how this will affect asylum seekers is at, director of the transporter Institute. Thank you for joining us. How does this ruling from Jeff sessions change the way the U.S. will be processing asylum-seekers? On the one hand, particular classes are fleeing certain kinds of gang violence, this change is basically the letter of the law. This is a precedent setting decisions for how the cases are adjudicated. On the other hand, the way in which those precedents develop in the way in which the substance of immigration laws plays with our courts, means it is not going to be the same everywhere. The Attorney General can overrule what has been said, but he cannot change what the 11th circuit says. And federal courts, they have their own interpretations. What it will mean in the short term is that we are going to adjudicate these cases differently in different parts of the country. >> It may not be a done deal in California. What is the most permissive or the widest interpretation of these categories for asylum is the ninth circuit. It is certainly not a done deal. >> What is this legal argument he is using to say that gang violence should not be considered as gone for a silent assessment asylum? >> He is saying we need to set the same high procedural bar as for any other case. We cannot do is accept these as classes. He is kind of accusing immigration judges of after a couple of precedents, they are effectively lowering the standard and he claims he is bringing it back up to where it should be. It is a very reasonable argument, I think if you go back to the language of the refugee act, which is what determines who is a refugee everywhere, it is certainly true that the authors of that language did not anticipate domestic violence counting. On the other hand, at the same time this went into law in the U.S. in 1979, spousal rape was not against the law. There is a whole problem about how do we incorporate this domestic violence into law that his evolved. It has evolved in a very cautious way. This case was the product of 15 years of careful litigation that was enforced. >> Talk about that case? >> A woman had suffered extreme domestic violence including repeated rapes. She received death threats after going to the police. She had made repeated attempts to avail herself of protection that is technically available in our country. This was not someone who was in an unhappy marriage and tried to leave. That is true of all the domestic violence cases that have qualified for asylum or advanced to this stage and again, this was a standard of the case that preceded it. That case took 10 years to litigate. This began in 1999 and was not decided until 2009 and it was not until 2014 that the Board of immigration appeals started issuing substantive decisions to clarify that yes, in most cases, domestic violence can count, but again, you have to prove it in each case. >> This is reversing a trend that was leading up to 2014 I was suggesting it can count under the right circumstances? >> That is something that Jeff sessions was complaining about. This should not be a surprise pimp on the one hand, the most effective group will be people considering making a claim for asylum based on domestic violence. However, the decision also makes it clear that this decision applies to any kind of private violence meaning criminal violence. Victims of criminal violence in the family members who are targeted because of that potentially have a much higher bar to pass to get asylum in the U.S. That means not just people fleeing domestic violence, but drug cartels and terrorist organizations. People other than the government who might persecute them. >> What percentage of seekers fall into this category? >> From Central America and from Mexico, which are two of the places we are dealing with, it is all of the cases. >> So there are no other remaining grounds for asylum? >> My perspective comes a lot from the cases in Mexico. I have served as a witness in about 50 of these and this is the predominant pattern of violence and I think it is important because just as the authors of the refugee convention could not maybe anticipate the use of the convention to protect from domestic violence, they also did not anticipate the rise of these really powerful criminal organizations. >> Is this not true perhaps for South America and Central America? Maybe people from Africa might have fear of government? >> It depends on the specific countries. For Mexico and Central America right now and here along the border where people are most likely to see, they are fleeing these criminal organizations and it is so important that we think about the nature of these organizations because on the one hand, yes, there are iterations we could call gangs where that is an appropriate word, but think about an organization that is killing Canada's policeman by the hundreds and trying to dictate public opinion by killing journalists, is that really private violence? To me that talks more about the evolution of power in these places and who really counts then something we would call private or limited criminal violence. >> Why is it the Attorney General has the right to change the law with statements? >> They can change it in terms of how the statute is interpreted by the immigration courts, the substance and the Attorney General has wide latitude. Jenny Reno into the someone actually went the opposite way on the original case that started this whole problem. She reversed the denial of asylum and started this path towards recognizing domestic violence. The Attorney General can overrule the highest review panel for immigration cases in the U.S. And has been that way since modern immigration law came in 1965. And we have given the Attorney General extreme discussion. But he cannot violate the Constitution in the federal courts do have something to say. Of course he cannot overrule them. >> Thank you so much for helping us understand this. >> Thank you for having me

President Donald Trump's abrupt announcement Tuesday that he will suspend U.S. military drills in South Korea appeared to catch the Pentagon and the Seoul government flat-footed, and it contradicted a pillar of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' campaign to make U.S. troops more combat-ready.

During a news conference following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump pushed his unconventional approach even further by calling annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises "provocative." He also said he'd like to remove all 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the South, although he made clear this was an option for the future, not a part of current negotiations.

The U.S. has stationed combat troops in South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 war and has used them in a variety of large-scale drills designed to sharpen skills and test troops' ability to operate effectively with their South Korean partners.

The next scheduled major exercise, known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian and involving tens of thousands of troops, normally is held in August.

"We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should," Trump said in Singapore. "But we'll be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus, I think it's very provocative." In a later interview with the Voice of America, Trump said the North Koreas were "very happy" about his decision to freeze the exercises "because it is so provocative."

RELATED: Trump, Kim Shake Hands To Open Momentous Summit

In the wake of Trump's unexpected, almost offhand comments to reporters, the Pentagon had nothing to say about the future of the war games. Several hours after Trump's remarks, the Pentagon put out a brief statement welcoming "positive news" from Singapore, but it remained silent on whether Ulchi Freedom Guardian will proceed. Mattis' chief spokeswoman, Dana W. White, told reporters he was "in full alignment" with Trump and had been consulted in advance on all aspects of the Singapore talks.

"There were no surprises," she said.

If Mattis was aware that Trump was going to announce a suspension of military exercises, he apparently did not share that information with the South Koreans or with the military organization most directly affected: U.S. Forces Korea.

That U.S. command said it had "received no updated guidance on the execution or cessation of training exercises."

The South Korean government also appeared caught off guard. Seoul's presidential office told The Associated Press that it was trying to parse Trump's comments. The South Korean military seemed similarly surprised.

"At this current point, there is a need to discern the exact meaning and intent of President Trump's comments," Seoul's Defense Ministry said, adding that there have been no discussions yet with Washington on modifying drills set for August.

A degree of confusion arose after Vice President Mike Pence spoke to senators at a lunch closed to media coverage. Sen. Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, said Pence indicated that "exercises will continue," although Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said this referred to routine, daily training in South Korea, not the large-scale war games that Trump said are suspended.

Trump's remarks contradicted decades of assertions by U.S. administrations that military exercises in South Korea are defensive and essential to ensuring that allied forces are ready at a moment's notice to fight the North. A favored U.S. slogan in South Korea is "ready to fight tonight."

Mattis often says his number one priority as Pentagon chief is to improve what he calls the "lethality" of the military, which includes making troops better equipped, trained and prepared for a full range of combat. In his view, preparedness equates to more effective deterrence -- persuading potential adversaries they cannot win and thus should not attack.

Trump's statement was portrayed by critics as an unreciprocated concession.

"Stopping the joint exercises has been a long-term goal for North Korea and China," two Asia analysts, Victor Cha and Sue Mi Terry, wrote in a summit assessment for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Trump delivered it while getting nothing in return beyond the same generalities that North Korea has been offering since the early 1990s."

Even some Republicans in Congress seemed uneasy about this. Rep. Ed Royce of California, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, applauded Trump for pursuing peace through diplomacy, but he also said Kim had "gained much" Tuesday, "including an apparent promise" from Trump to suspend military drills.

Trump also seemed annoyed that U.S. bomber aircraft make six-plus hour flights from the Pacific island of Guam to the Korean peninsula as part of its exercise routine.

"Six and a half hours — that's a long time for these big massive planes to be flying to South Korea to practice and then drop bombs all over the place, and then go back to Guam," Trump said. "I know a lot about airplanes; it's very expensive."

North Korea regularly calls the military exercises provocative preparations for a northward invasion, and many of the scariest standoffs in recent years on the Korean Peninsula have happened when the drills were being staged.

Moon Seong Mook, a former South Korean military official, said Trump's comments on the drills confirmed what many in South Korea had feared all along — that North Korea would attempt to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul and gain substantial concessions from an unconventional U.S. president who thinks much less of the traditional alliance than his predecessors.

"The American military presence in South Korea wouldn't mean much if the militaries don't practice through joint drills," said Moon, now a senior analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.