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Transcript: Anna Fifield talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

Anna FifieldINTELLIGENCE MATTERS - ANNA FIFIELD

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL
PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

MICHAEL MORELL:
Anna, welcome to Intelligence Matters, it is great to have you on the show.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Thank you, I'm so happy to be here.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So your book, The Great Successor, was published last week. It's fascinating. It's a must read, I think, for anyone interested in North Korea. And it has one of the best subtitles that I've ever seen, The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong-Un. It sounds like they actually wrote that.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, well, those are all words that the North Koreans have said at one stage, and we just took a little liberty in arranging them in that order.
MICHAEL MORELL:
It's wonderful. I'd love to start with something that struck me right off the bat, which is the cover of the book. It's bright red with a caricature of Kim Jong-un. Why that design?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, so this was the publisher's design and their decision based on what they know about the book world, and I don't. I mean, the whole thesis of the book is that he's not a cartoon character, that he is somebody that we ought to be taking seriously. But having said that, there is something of the wacky about him. I think this taps into the bizarre side of it.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So you reconstruct his past, all the way up to the present. And I want to get into all of that in detail. But before doing that, I want to ask you a couple questions about the book, and I think the first one is, what drew you to writing about him?
ANNA FIFIELD:
I had been covering North Korea for some years, and I did not think that Kim Jong-un could do it, that he would be able to perpetuate the system which should, by rights, have collapsed many years before. I mean, partly because it was such an anachronistic system, but also because he was so young and inexperienced.

And I couldn't imagine how he would have the wherewithal to do it, and how the old guard, who'd served his grandfather and his father, and is still very much there in Pyongyang, how they would tolerate it. So partly, it was just this fascination of how had he managed to do it?

The first time I went back to Pyongyang under his reign, I was astonished to see this showcase capital, and it is a showcase capital, but it was looking so much better. He had managed to give the showcase a makeover. So I wanted to go and report out, and show how he had actually managed to defy all these expectations.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So how did you go about writing the book? Where did you go, who did you talk to, to the extent that you can share that with us? How long did it take, how did you go about this?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, it took about two years. I set out to find every person who had ever met Kim Jong-un. So I was living in Japan, I went and met several times with the Japanese sushi chef who had worked in the royal household while Kim Jong-un was a boy.

I found his aunt and uncle, who had been his guardians in Switzerland, while he was at school there, and who had defected to the United States. And I convinced them to talk to me. It's the only time that they've ever talked on the record about Kim Jong-un and what he was like as a child. There are some people in Switzerland still who have met him, the teachers, the school classmates, but after that, after he returns to North Korea when he's 16 years old, the trail really goes cold. He went into the North Korean equivalent of West Point, and then seemed to be on this kind of dictatorial apprenticeship for ten years, while he was training to be his father's successor.

So after that, it became more difficult, but I did try to find anybody who had met him after he took over. You know, diplomats who had shaken his hand one time, and things. No encounter was too trivial, as I looked for clues into this man. But then, in 2018, it suddenly became a whole lot easier, because it seemed like everybody had met him.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So did you travel to North Korea to research the book?
ANNA FIFIELD:
I was traveling to North Korea in the course of my job anyway. But the whole time, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to write this. And I was looking for insights into not so much him, because obviously, access is very limited to say the least. But into how the city, Pyongyang, the home of the regime, had changed. The kinds of changes he had made with the economy, to show how he had retained control. So there were a lot of clues to be gleaned from Pyongyang.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And when you went to North Korea while writing a book, did they know you were writing a book?
ANNA FIFIELD:
They did not know I was writing a book, but they knew that I was The Washington Post correspondent, and I was there to report for The Washington Post. I've always been upfront about what I'm doing and who I am.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So what is it like to travel there as a reporter?
ANNA FIFIELD:
It is so frustrating because we're so excited. It's difficult to get into North Korea, so when you get there, you're very pleased to be able to go in, and very hopeful that you'll be able to get some insight into the system operates.

And then, once you're there, you're frustrated at every turn, because I have been to Kim Il-sung's fake birthplace seven times. I have never gotten any news out of it. It's very difficult to find new things, or to find out really what the truth is. They just want you to see the myths.
MICHAEL MORELL:
You mentioned that you usually have two minders, a good minder and a bad minder. What do you mean by that?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, I mean, North Koreans always travel everywhere in pairs, because they need to keep an eye on each other, as well as to keep an eye on me. So there is always two minders, sometimes it's a driver and a minder, whatever. But yeah, I had a good cop and a bad cop, and one of them, his job was to say no to every request.

And I tried to make my requests reasonable. It was, like, "Can I interview an economics professor at a university?" And it was always, "No, no, no." And then there was one guy who was more jovial.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Do you have the same minders each time, so it's possible to build rapport, or no?
ANNA FIFIELD:
No. I would never have the same minders, for that exact reason. They don't want us to build a rapport with them.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Interesting. So you've traveled there many times, I think a dozen times.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
MICHAEL MORELL:
What's the most striking thing that you've ever seen?
ANNA FIFIELD:
The most striking thing.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Memorable, most striking? What are the things that really stand out to you about your travels there?
ANNA FIFIELD:
I think we see so much about North Korea and so many pictures and things, and we know that the country is very poor. But there are many places that are very poor. The thing that surprises me and that feels palpable when you're there is kind of how afraid people are. If they see a foreigner outside, walking towards them, they'll cross the street or look down. They don't want anything to do with you, because it's just so dangerous. So as a reporter, my job is to go out and talk to people. I never tried to talk to people in North Korea, because I am simply endangering those people.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Because of the risk you put them under?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, the risk I put them under. I won't get anything from them, I will jeopardize them, the minders and everybody else around will report it. So I get my real reporting from North Korea from outside the country, from people who've just escaped, you know, a week before and are living and hiding in China or somewhere.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Anna, I want to jump into the book itself. And I want to start with its protagonist, Kim Jong-un. Broadly speaking, how would you describe him as a person?
ANNA FIFIELD:
He is a very ruthless and shrewd person. When he came in, there was this tendency to view him like a joke, like a cartoon character. Everybody from John McCain to President Trump calling him some version of crazy. But he is not crazy. He has acted in a way that is very calculated and rational, to be able to hold on to power there.

And many of the things he has done have been very brutal, like having people executed. But that kind of behavior makes sense if you're a totalitarian autocrat, trying to keep ahold of power. One of the things I looked at, you know, I looked a lot at his childhood and the kind of upbringing he had. And he had such a dysfunctional abnormal childhood. He was cloistered onto this compound in Pyongyang, or other royal residences around the country. He didn't have any relationship with his other half-siblings. He only knew his older brother and younger sister. So he didn't have a chance to act normally with other children, to play, he didn't go to school, he had tutors at home. So he didn't socialize really in a way, or didn't learn to play nice in a way that other normal children did. So looking at it, I think it would've been very difficult for him to grow up kind of any other way than he did.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So how did those early parts of his childhood end up shaping him, do you think?
ANNA FIFIELD:
He has been used to being treated like a little demigod from the earliest age. On his eighth birthday, he was presented with a general's uniform, complete with gold buttons and epaulets and things. And he was announced as his father's successor then. And there were real generals at that birthday party who were saluting him, and bowing to him, and deferring to him from that age. So as his aunt told me, from that day on, it was impossible for anybody to treat him normally. Because he had the sense of entitlement, and everybody else around him had been told that he would be inheriting this family dynasty.
MICHAEL MORELL:
You tell an interesting story about the Japanese sushi chef and that moment, right? Can you talk about that?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, that's right, when the sushi chef met Kim Jong-un for the first time, they were lined up in a receiving line to greet the two little generals, Kim Jong-un and his older brother. And he said that Kim Jong-chul, the oldest son of that side of the family, was relatively forthcoming and shook his hand and acted normally. But Kim Jong-un stared into his eyes and tried to stare down this 40-year-old man, and assert himself over him, which he said was very odd at the time.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And then he spends this time in Switzerland, about five years, right? What is that like for him, and how did that shape him?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, I mean, in some ways, he was living a great lifestyle there, and that he was any kind of, like, spoiled ex-pat kid. He was going off to Paris, to Disneyland, he was swimming in the French Mediterranean, and going to Italy, and eating pizza, and enjoying all of these benefits of living in Europe.

And they clearly had money to fund the children's lifestyle there. But at the same time, he was living a very normal existence, compared to what he was living in Pyongyang, where he did live in a palace, and was treated in this very deferential way. Once he got to Switzerland, he was posing as the son of North Korean diplomats, he was going to an ordinary school. He struggled in school, partly because of the language difficulties. And he stuck together with other immigrant kids there. They were his main friends. So it was not a particularly fun experience for him, I think. So many people thought when he came to power, that he would be a different kind of North Korean leader because of this formative experience in a liberal democracy.

I concluded the exact opposite was the case, in that his experiences in Switzerland would have reinforced to him that if it wasn't for this system that he grew up in North Korea, if he was out in the real world, he wouldn't be special at all. He'd be normal, he'd be nobody. You know, he would not be feted as this little demigod, like he was used to.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So you dedicate a lot of research in the book to Kim Jong-un, but you also take a look at his family and ancestors. And I'm going to ask you a couple of questions about them, maybe starting with his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. Talk about him a little bit, and the impact that he may have had on Kim Jong-un.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, so Kim Il-sung was the founding president of North Korea, installed by the Soviets after the end of World War II. And he is very much associated, even today, with good times in North Korea. That North Korea was relatively prosperous back then, the economy was bigger than South Korea, it had strong benefactors in the Soviet Union and China.

So even now, you'll find escapees from North Korea who will think fondly or remember fondly Kim Il-sung. But he started this personality cult, this propaganda that went way beyond anything that the Soviets or Mao Zedong in China ever did, and created this myth around the family that they had this divine provenance coming from a mythical mountain in North Korea, called Mount Paektu. And so he started the symptom, and very much wanted it to pass down the family line. It went to his son, Kim Jong-il, who was a very different kind of person. He was quite introverted, and did not seem to enjoy his lot in life there.
MICHAEL MORELL:
He didn't have the charisma of his father.
ANNA FIFIELD:
He did not have the charisma. Then along comes Kim Jong-un, number three, he's very much a carbon copy of Kim Il-sung. Part of that is by design, like, the weight gain, and the haircut, and the outfits, and even his glasses and things, it's all very much vintage Kim Il-sung.

Because he wants to remind people of the good times in North Korea, and remind them of this provenance which gives him his legitimacy. But it's striking how similar he is in personality to his grandfather. He's very extroverted and gregarious, charismatic, and how different he is from Kim number two, Kim Jong-il. He spoke in public only one time in 17 years, and that was one single sentence.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So that's pretty savvy for a young man, to think about playing to his people that way.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, it is. I mean, part of the thing I wanted to try to figure out is how does he know how to do this stuff? Is it innate? Did he just absorb it growing up in the system? Did he have advisors to tell him this? And it's still not clear, but what is clear is that he has proven much more canny than anybody ever expected.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Do we know anything about the kind of relationship he had with his grandfather? I guess Kim Jong-un was about ten when Kim Il-sung died.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, that's right. He probably met him, he was not a secret, like Kim Jong-nam was. But there is no photograph of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-un together. Or no photograph that's ever been made public. And we would expect it to be made public because of the strong family relationship. And through the course of my reporting, I discovered that this is one of the reasons why Kim Jong-un disliked his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, so much.

This is the uncle he had executed at the end of 2013. He thought this uncle had been an impediment to him having that photo with his grandfather, having proper access to his grandfather, and had kind of delegitimized him in a way.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And this was the execution that surprised everybody, because the uncle was the one who was supposed to guide him in his leadership of the country.
ANNA FIFIELD:
That's right, the uncle was supposed to be the regent, keeping tabs and helping him through.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And then what about his relationship with his father, Kim Jong-il? What do we know about that?
ANNA FIFIELD:
He did spend quite a lot of time with his father growing up. Kim Jong-nam and his cousin, who lived with him, kind of as his sister, they were complaining a lot that Kim Jong-il was never there, in their royal household, because he was off with this next family, they were quite jealous of that. So yeah, Kim Jong-un did have a relationship with his father growing up, and seems to have been taken under his wing as the inheritor.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Anna, a couple more questions about his relatives.

So his siblings, two in particular, that I'd like to ask you about. One is his sister, Kim Yo-jong, and the other is Kim Jong-nam. Could you talk about both of those, and the way he interacted with them, the way he saw them, and particularly, with regard to Kim Jong-nam, what led to his death ultimately?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Kim Jong-nam was the firstborn son of Kim Jong-il, which, according to the Confucian hierarchies of Korean culture, he should have been the successor, he should have taken over. But he did not. Partly, I think, because of his mother, and Kim Jong-un's mother, they had very strong influences. But Kim Jong-nam's mother went to Moscow when he was only three years old, and was kind of out of the picture for the rest of Kim Jong-nam's life there. Whereas Kim Jong-un's mother was very active there, in Pyongyang, where she was like de facto First Lady, was really agitating for her sons, one of them to be the successor to this regime.

So Kim Jong-un and Kim Jong-nam had no relationship at all, as far as I can tell. It's not certain that they ever even met each other. But still, Kim Jong-nam, as the firstborn son of this bloodline, which is very important in Korean culture, could claim the right to be the leader of North Korea.

So I think Kim Jong-un viewed him as a real rival, as somebody who could pose a threat to his role. Even though Kim Jong-nam showed no interest whatsoever in becoming the leader of North Korea. And that may have been one of the reasons why Kim Jong-un decided to have his brother assassinated in very gruesome fashion, in Kuala Lumpur Airport. But also, during the course of my reporting, I was told that Kim Jong-nam had been an informant for the CIA, and had been providing information to American intelligence operatives in Southeast Asia.

He'd been meeting them in Malaysia and Singapore to provide information on what he knew about the regime. And he did, even though he had fallen out with his younger brother, he still did have good contacts in the regime. He still met people at a high level, so could be thought to have reasonable intelligence.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And if Kim Jong-un found out about that, that would be another reason to move against him.
ANNA FIFIELD:
It sure would. Yeah, so he is very much at a distance from Kim Jong-un, as opposed to his sister, Kim Yo-jong, who's younger than him. And she is very much playing a supportive role to her brother, making sure that his leadership, everything runs smoothly. She is like his executive assistant, and choreographer, and publicist all in one. So we've seen her at all of the summits, clearly working. Like, she is the one who brings the pen out of her bag so he can sign the agreements. And she's the one making sure everything runs smoothly. So her job is to make sure that her brother looks as good as possible.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Kim Jong-un comes back from Switzerland, and he begins the grooming process in a number of different ways. And then his father dies. And he becomes the leader, and as you said, you thought he might not be able to sustain this. There were many, many people who thought that way, I can tell you. Why was he able to do that? What did you conclude at the end of the day?
ANNA FIFIELD:
I concluded he was able to do it by being very strategic and having a game plan, I think, from the get-go. He laid out very early on this two track strategy, Byungjin policy that he wanted to follow. Also something that his grandfather had started, but had fallen by the wayside. So he very deliberately focused first of all on the nuclear program as a way to show a sign of strength.

Perhaps as a way to placate the military hardliners, who may have had misgivings about this person who was supposedly a marshal, yet had not spent any time at all in the military. And as a way to fend off any threat from the United States.

And so he made astonishing progress in his nuclear program. You know, there was a lot of laughing at the idea when they were announcing that they would develop a hydrogen bomb, and they were building an intercontinental ballistic missile. But they did it. There's credible proof that they did it. And so I think that was very definitely by design. And then now, he is turning to the second part of that two track project, which is economic development. That he is trying to grow the economy around the country a little bit, so that he can say to the people of North Korea, who he does not care about whatsoever.

None of this is designed to raise the living standards for any good reasons of the people of North Korea. It's all about him staying in power. But he wants to be able to say to them, "Look, your life is getting better under my great leadership."
MICHAEL MORELL:
So how has he changed as a ruler during his time in power?
ANNA FIFIELD:
I think he's become much more confident. I was in Pyongyang in 2016 for the Workers Party Congress, which is the first time in a generation one of these Communist party meetings had been called. And I just watched him standing there on a stage in front of three and a half thousand top brass and top party officials, holding forth for well over an hour, talking about his plans for North Korea.

And he laid out a five year economic plan, which had not been done in North Korea for a long time. But I also thought was very bold, because he was really staking his reputation on this. He was owning this policy, and so if it didn't work, he could be held accountable for it.

So I think he is really growing into this role, and is able to portray strength and confidence. And also able to turn on the charm, after all of these years of threats and saber rattling and things. We saw him trying to appear as this benevolent dictator, you know, coming out into the outside world in 2018, and trying to present himself as a totally reasonable, responsible leader of a nuclear armed state, and somebody who should be viewed as an equivalent, a peer of the President of the United States, and China, and South Korea.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Is the focus on the economy paying off? Are living standards getting better?
ANNA FIFIELD:
They are, in general, a tiny, tiny bit. For the majority of North Koreans, life is still extremely hard. Many people do not have electricity, they do not have running water, they may not be starving, but they are malnourished. It's unusual for people outside the big cities to get meat or other forms of protein. So life is still very difficult for many people. But because he has tolerated the growth of private markets, and private enterprise in North Korea, people are now much more than ever allowed to be entrepreneurial, allowed to make their own money, and to be independent of the state. So thanks to Kim Jong-un simply tolerating this, not actually doing anything to encourage it, people are able to earn their own money, and earn their own way to a better standard of living, slightly.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So you actually talk about the class system in North Korea, and I found that interesting. Can you talk about that a little bit?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah, North Korea has this very highly structured class system called Songbun, where the society is broken up into three main categories. The people who are loyal to the regime, the people who are wavering in the middle, and then the people considered hostile. And they are people who may come from Christian backgrounds, or have links to Japan, or have collaborated with Japanese, you know, many generations ago, during the Colonial Period.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So they may not actually be hostile, but they're part of a group that is considered a risk.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yes. And they are consigned that for life. And in North Korea, it's very easy to move down the classes, to run afoul of the system. It's very difficult to work your way up the system, in terms of, like, political standing. And everything is really decided according to the system.

The people who are considered loyal, they go to Kim Il-sung University, the Harvard of North Korea. They get the best jobs, they live well, they're the ones who get the food if there is food to go around. So everything is dependent on your political loyalty to this regime.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And you're born into this class system.
ANNA FIFIELD:
You are born into this class system.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Anna, as the leader of North Korea, what are Kim Jong-un's goals, what are his objectives, what does he want?
ANNA FIFIELD:
He wants one thing. He wants to stay in power. That is his number one goal. When he wakes up every morning, that's it. How does he maintain his grip on this regime and his family's position at the top of the society? These autocrats, dictators by nature are a paranoid bunch. He's constantly thinking about how he keeps his position. So I think everything that he does, the nuclear program, the executions, the lavishing riches on the elite who keep him in power, now the economic improvements, North Korea doesn't like to call them reforms, because that implies there's something wrong with the system. All of that is designed about maintaining his leadership of North Korea and his family's plum position there.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Why is the nuclear program so important to that?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Because he came in, he was so unqualified, he didn't seem to have any qualification for the job, apart from being the scion of this family. But having this nuclear program is the ultimate weapon for the military.

The military who may have had misgivings about him must have been thrilled to suddenly have the bomb. And he's feted them a lot, the lavish banquets and concerts, where they are treated like rock stars in North Korea. But also, and this is something I think is often really missed about North Korea, the nuclear program is a source of immense national pride for ordinary North Koreans. Even amongst those who detest the regime. And there's one person who really sticks in my mind, he was a science student at a university in North Korea.

And he absolutely hated this regime. When Kim Jong-un took over, he knew he had to escape, because he just couldn't tolerate a third generation. But he described to me learning about the nuclear program in his physics class at university, and feeling so proud that North Korea had been able to develop this program that South Korea and Japan had not been able to.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Interesting. Why do you think Kim Jong-un came to the negotiating table when he did? Why do you think he reached out when he did?
ANNA FIFIELD:
I think it's a combination of two things. Partly, it's because as the North Koreans announced at the end of 2017, they had completed their missile program. He felt that he had gone as far as he needed to, in terms of demonstrating this nuclear missile capability. But also, I think the maximum pressure campaign really did have an impact on him.

Because the Chinese, who share this long border with North Korea. You know, 90% of North Korea's trade goes to or through China. The Chinese really started implementing sanctions like they had never done before, because they were so worried that President Trump was serious about raining down fire and fury on North Korea. The Chinese wanted to show that sanctions could work. So they enforced the sanctions very strictly at the border, and that began to hurt North Korea.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, really, for the first time.
ANNA FIFIELD:
For the first time, yeah. And I think the combination of those two things is what brought Kim Jong-un.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So one is coming to the table from a position of strength, having the deterrence of a nuclear program, and the other is from weakness, right, from the sanctions biting.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Exactly. Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Interesting. So here's the ultimate question. Which is, can you envision a set of circumstances by which he is willing to give up his nuclear program or not?
ANNA FIFIELD:
I cannot. I mean, I can't imagine him feeling secure enough to give them up. You know, he's invested so much in this program, and so much of his legitimacy rests on these weapons. And also, remember, when he was taking over, the Arab Spring was happening. He saw Muammar Gaddafi, who struck a deal with the United States to give up his nuclear weapons, dragged from a ditch and killed. So I think this really has been seared in his mind, and that's why, to this day, the North Koreans really object very strongly when John Bolton talks about the Libya model. Because that doesn't hold any attraction for them.

So I can't see a situation where he would be willing to give everything up. I can see him trading away some of his capability, in the course of this process, if things go well. But also, you know, it's very early days. You know, maybe down the line, you know, anything is possible. But right now, I can't see it.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So how do you think he thinks about U.S. policy, and where the U.S. is coming from? And how do you think he thinks about President Trump?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yeah. The North Koreans, like pretty much everybody else, was very puzzled by President Trump and his way of doing business when he came in. You know, they didn't understand what the tweets mean. What's Twitter policy, and things.

So that's no different from China, or South Korea or Japan or any other of these countries. But the North Koreans have really studied Donald Trump a lot. And there's a lot out there for them to crib from. They've read The Art of the Deal. I know that people in North Korea have read Fire and Fury, this expose about inside Trump's White House.
MICHAEL MORELL:
We know they listen to Intelligence Matters.
ANNA FIFIELD:
You do?
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah.
ANNA FIFIELD:
That's fascinating. You know, I've heard about North Koreans have attended talks with Americans and have demonstrated this encyclopedic knowledge of President Trump's tweets. They pay attention to everything. And you can see that they've kind of figured out what pushes his buttons.

It's no coincidence that Kim Jong-chol, the emissary arrived in the White House Oval Office with this huge envelope. Because he knew that Trump would love that, and he did. So they have really studied him, and tried to figure out how to interact with him in a way that gives them an advantage. Because they know far more about Donald Trump than the Americans know about Kim Jong-un.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Anna, you've been terrific with your time, just a couple more questions. One is, are you optimistic, pessimistic about U.S./North Korean relations?
ANNA FIFIELD:
You know, after all these years covering North Korea, I should know better than to be optimistic. You're usually right if you're pessimistic about North Korea. Before the Singapore Summit, I did feel quite optimistic, and I retain a little bit of that to this day.

Because I think Kim Jong-un is a very unconventional North Korean leader, in that he has been very bold and audacious and being willing to advertise that he's traveling outside the country, and meeting Donald Trump in Hanoi before it even happened.

You know, that was very risky. Especially since Hanoi was a disaster. But also, the United States has a very unconventional leader in somebody who's been willing to do things differently from before. As unlikely as it seems, maybe they can figure out some way to break this deadlock. Because what I do know is that the traditional way of dealing with North Korea, 30 years of doing the same thing, has not worked.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right.
ANNA FIFIELD:
So let's try something different.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So the second question is, what do you think he would think of your book?
ANNA FIFIELD:
Kim Jong-un?
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah.
ANNA FIFIELD:
I think he would not like it. I did not write it for him to like it. But even though I have given him a lot of credit for his savvy, and the way that he has managed to hold on to power seven and a half years on. But I also have outlined the way he's done it, the brutality, the ruthlessness, and I expect that they will not like it.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And then the last question, I find it interesting that your book has 16 chapters, but you break it into three sections. So you break it into the apprenticeship, the consolidation and the confidence, which we've talked about all three of those, right? And I'm wondering if you wrote this book ten to 15 years from now, would there be another section, and what might it be? I know that's a tough question.
ANNA FIFIELD:
That is a tough question. Wow. You know, it's so hard to predict anything about North Korea. And you know, I start the book by saying I'm writing this because my predictions were wrong.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Well, I used to work on it a long, long time ago, and I thought it wasn't going to last another five years.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Yes, I mean, there are declassified CIA [cables] from the '60s giving it five years, right?
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yes.
ANNA FIFIELD:
You know, anything is possible. But I can see a situation where Kim Jong-un has managed to hold on. He does not seem to be anything but in control of the regime right now. But who knows what could happen? You know, look at him. I think the biggest risk to North Korea is his health. He is very unhealthy for a 35-year-old. And if he's really worried about staying in power, he should quit smoking and start exercising.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Anna, thank you so much for your time.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Thank you.
MICHAEL MORELL:
The book is The Great Successor, and the author is Anna Fifield.
ANNA FIFIELD:
Great, thank you for having me.
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