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Transcript: North Korea expert Sue Mi Terry talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

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In this episode of the "Intelligence Matters" podcast, host Michael Morell speaks with Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow for Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A former senior CIA analyst, Terry explains why the U.S.-North Korea talks are at a stalemate after months of negotiations and three historic summits between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un. Terry tells Morell Kim has not taken a single step toward denuclearization, nor has he made the strategic decision to renounce his nuclear weapons program, all while continuing to test shorter-range missiles. Terry also outlines concerns about regional proliferation and the prospects of arriving at an interim nuclear deal before the 2020 election.

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Highlights

  • On prospects for a nuclear deal: "Despite President Trump saying right after the Singapore Summit that the North Korean threat is over, we are at a stalemate. North Korean threat is not over. They have not taken a single step towards denuclearization. And that's where we are. […] Most fundamentally, I don't think Kim has made the strategic decision to give up his nuclear weapons program. I think it's pretty clear now."  
  • Kim's domestic political prospects: "I would say, yes, he has consolidated power right now. No, we don't see any kind of potential challengers to Kim because Kim got rid of them. But overall, the long term stability picture is still not a great one."
  • On human rights in North Korea: "I don't think it has gotten any better. This is sort of the thing that I regret about this as policy. I do think when President Trump first came into office in 2017 he did at least appear that he cared about North Korea's human rights issue. The State of the Union Address. He brought Otto Warmbier's family to the State of the Union Address. He invited a North Korean defector. He hosted several meetings with North Korean defectors. When he went to South Korea, he gave this big speech in front of the National Assembly. He addressed North Korean human rights. But all of that sort of got thrown out just because he wanted to now not annoy Kim. No, the human rights situation has not gotten better."

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - SUE MI TERRY

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

MICHAEL MORELL:

Sue, welcome back to Intelligence Matters. It's great to have you back on the show. This is your third time with us, tying a record. You're actually competing with your colleague from CSIS, that's Chris Johnson (LAUGH) for most on the podcast. But it's great to have you back.

SUE MI TERRY:

Great. Thanks for having me.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Sue, I wanted to have you on the show to give our listeners an update on North Korea. There is a lot that's going on in the world, from impeachment and elections here at home, to tension with Iran and Turkey abroad. And North Korea's fallen off the front pages. There's not that much discussion about it at the moment.

So I thought it important that at least we here on Intelligence Matters and our listeners not lose sight of what is an extraordinarily important issue. So that's what I'd love to do. And maybe the place to start, Sue, is to remind us kind of how we got from where we were at the end of the Obama administration, to where we are today. How would you tell the arc of that story?

SUE MI TERRY:

When President Trump first came into the office, President Obama first told President Trump that North Korea is going to be the number one security issue. And it turned out to be true. In 2017, North Korea conducted many tests, including three ICBM tests, intercontinental ballistic missile tests, which the United States, from the US's perspective, used to always say that's the threshold because now they have a missile that can reach New York or Washington.

They also conducted nuclear tests with a hydrogen bomb test. It was a very powerful test. And so if you remember in 2017, the Trump administration was pursuing what they called a maximum pressure policy. And, along with a fire and fury rhetoric and calling Kim a rocket man on a suicide mission--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And the maximum--

SUE MI TERRY:

--and all of that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--pressure was largely sanctions?

SUE MI TERRY:

Largely sanctions. And to the Trump administration's credit, I do think they got countries like China to actually implement sanctions. And for a skeptic like myself and a lot of Korea watchers, that was a genuine surprise that, by fall of 2017 we had China implementing sanctions because in the previous administrations, China was a little  

bit lax, let's say, in terms of implementing sanctions. So we were in full on, maximum pressure stage with North Korea in response to their nuclear tests and missile tests.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Do you think China was helpful in that situation because they were worried --

SUE MI TERRY:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--about the tension on the peninsula?

SUE MI TERRY:

Absolutely. I do think China's favorite saying with the Korean peninsula is, "No war, no instability, no nukes," and in that order. And I think, with maximum pressure, with this fire and fury rhetoric, China was concerned about potential instability in the Korean peninsula, potential conflict.

If you remember, it was also a time when we were talking about a potential preventive strike on North Korea, a bloody nose

strategy, pursuing that strategy. South Koreans were so alarmed about all of this. So that was 2017. And then all of a sudden in 2018, we have Kim Jong Un's new year editorial that sort of indicated maybe North Korea was shifting to sort of the charm offensive phase.

Because North Korea said, "You know what? We're done with our testing. We're going to now try to focus on economic development." And then President Moon, Moon Jae-in of South Korea, played a pivotal role in terms of sort of saying, "It's time for diplomacy." Invited the North Koreans to participate in the PyeongChang Olympics, Winter Olympics in South Korea. And President Trump responded to all this by saying, "I'm going to meet with Kim Jong Un."

MICHAEL MORELL:

Why do you think Kim Jong Un made that shift in that new year speech?

SUE MI TERRY:

Kim is very interesting. He's a very shrewd guy. That move also caught many Korea watchers off-guard because he was about 90%, 95% done with North Korea's nuclear program. He has demonstrated an ICBM capability because they have tested three times intercontinental ballistic missiles.

He just conducted a hydrogen nuclear test. And I think he felt comfortable in terms of where they were in their nuclear missile program. And that he didn't feel the need to go all the way to show 100% capability in terms of being able to strike New York City with a nuclear weapon or Washington DC, right?

The North Koreans had a little more to go in terms of showing that capability. Militarization capability, I think most Korea watchers thought North Koreans were there. But they needed to showcase a successful reentry capability. They had a

couple more things, steps to do. But he stopped. He didn't need to go 100%.

He said, "This is good enough. I'm going to stop here." So I think the combination of getting North Korea's nuclear missile program to where he wanted it and then sort of saying, "I'm not going to push it further because of all this bloody nose talk that's coming out of Washington."

So I think it's a combination of reasons that have made him pivot to charm offensive. Sending the North Korean athletes to the South Korean Olympics, and then proposing meeting with Trump. And President Trump, of course, said, "I want to meet with Kim." It's not true that President Obama or President Bush were so dying to meet with the North Korean leader. It was active policy where previous US presidents didn't want to give that kind of legitimacy to a North Korean leader by sitting down with him.

I think President Trump said, "Kim called President Obama how many times. And Obama begged. President Obama begged to meet with Kim Jong Un." That's not true. Neither President Obama nor President Bush wanted to meet with a North Korean leader because that would be giving legitimacy to the leader.

But President Trump obviously, was not concerned about that. Wanted to sit down with Kim. So then we had the historic Singapore Summit, where President Trump met with Kim Jong Un. Then we also had the Hanoi Summit, which obviously didn't work out because North Koreans came in with such an ask.

What they asked for basically is almost all lifting of UNSC, United Nations Security Council sanctions that are placed on North Korea. And then they met again briefly at the DMZ in the Korean peninsula President Trump and the leader of North Korean, Kim

Jong Un. And then just recently, the working level talks were held in Stockholm. That fell apart.

So basically, since the Singapore Summit, despite the Singapore Declaration, despite North Korea saying they would work towards peace in the Korean peninsula and denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Despite President Trump saying right after the Singapore Summit that the North Korean threat is over, we are at a stalemate. North Korean threat is not over. They have not taken a single step towards denuclearization. And that's where we are.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Let me ask you a question about President Clinton because at the end of the second Clinton administration, President Clinton had signaled his willingness to go to North Korea. It didn't happen, at the end of the day. But he had signaled his willingness to go. How do you think about that, compared to  

what President Trump did?

SUE MI TERRY:

The order is very important there because President Clinton signaled his willingness to go to North Korea because we had a 1994 agreed framework. We had a bilateral agreement with North Korea. And that was towards the end of the administration that he was thinking about going.

And, of course, he sent his secretary of state, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, to Pyongyang. And it's just that they ran out of time. But there was a deal in place. And at the time, the US did not know that North Koreans were actually sort of cheating on that framework agreement.

At the time, I don't think President Clinton knew that. So his willingness to visit came at the end of that whole, there was a negotiation, there was an agreement. It's many years later. Whereas with President Trump, nothing has worked out, right? There

were no working level talks that were held where there was an agreement. President Trump thought only if he could just sit down with Kim Jong Un, they could somehow hammer out a deal. So it's--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Backwards?

SUE MI TERRY:

--a very backward approach.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Sue, we're at a stalemate. What's the underlying problem? What's the underlying dynamic that doesn't allow any sort of serious negotiation to go forward?

SUE MI TERRY:

Most fundamentally, I don't think Kim has made the strategic decision to give up his nuclear weapons program. I think it's pretty clear now. I was hoping before the Singapore Summit that maybe, just maybe, Kim is truly different from his father and grandfather in that regard. But I don't think he has made t

he strategic decision to give it up.

Then there's the actual problem of sequencing. So even if you give him that remotest possibility, which I don't think he has made that decision, but even if you allow yourself to say, "Okay, maybe Kim has made that decision. He just doesn't want to give up everything up front," we're not asking for that.

But there's a sequencing problem because what the North Koreans are saying is that the United States has to lift most of the sanctions before they can take the first step towards denuclearization. And obviously, what the United States is saying, sanctions the only real leverage that we have. And if we would lift most of the sanctions, why would Kim have any incentive to give it up?

So I think there's a sequencing problem. There's also distrust with each other. North  

Koreans also don't trust us because they have experience with the Clinton years. There was a great framework. Bill Clinton almost went to Pyongyang. Time ran out. President Bush came in, sort of reversed the policy.

So they kind of point to that and then they point to the US being a democracy. And we have a change of administration. And we're not going to be actually keeping our word that they can really trust us. And of course, from the US's perspective, we cannot trust North Korea.

We have a long history of dealing with North Korea. We had many agreements with North Korea, right? We had 1994 agreement framework. And during the Bush years, we had the whole Six Party Talks. And so we had a 2005 agreement, 2007 we had a joint statement.

And every single time, everything fell apart  

over verification. So even after there's an agreement, there's a fundamental distrust, there's a sequencing issue. And at the core, I don't think North Korea is interested in giving up nuclear weapons.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So he hasn't made up his mind to do that. Do you think he's open to the idea? Do you think he debates it in his mind? Or is this no way, no how? Or is there more going on here, do you think? Is he actually thinking about it? I know that's a really tough question.

SUE MI TERRY:

I think that's a very tough question. And really serious Korea scholars can debate this, and we do debate. This is my personal assessment, I don't think Kim will do that. I don't think he has made up his mind to that. And I don't see why he would do that. North Korea is a nuclear weapons power. North Korea is not Libya, what Libya was.

It's not Afghanistan.

North Korea has up to 60 nuclear warheads. They have intercontinental ballistic missiles. They believe nuclear weapons are the true deterrent, the only deterrent against the United States. And everybody knows North Koreans want regime survival and nuclear weapons are a deterrent against the United States and potential threat to North Korea. So why would you give it up?

Some people point to the fact that Kim Jong Un is a young man, that he'll actually want to develop North Korea economically. I buy that. Of course, he does. But from a North Korean perspective, they can have nuclear weapons and they can develop their country. So if he's eating his cake or having it, what's the phrase? (LAUGH) Right, he can do both. Why does he have to give up nuclear weapons? So I really have a hard time believing that North Korea will ever give up nuclear weapons.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So we've had this stalemate. And they haven't tested any more nuclear weapons, or they haven't tested any more ICBMs. They've done some tests of shorter range missiles. But are they still advancing in their capabilities on the nuclear weapons side and the ICBM side during the stalemate or not?

SUE MI TERRY:

Yes. They have been working. Ever since the Singapore Summit, they have continually worked on their nuclear missile program. They've conducted dozens of short range missiles this year. And each time it, of course, improves their capability. They're assessing, they've done a summary base launch missile just recently, last month.

So there's no indication that they have halted or they have stopped. In fact, they've been working on their program. So as we sit here, the North Korean threat has not gone away just because they don't test long

range missiles. They've been working on their program.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Would you say it's gotten worse? The threat has gotten worse as they make these advances? Is that too strong?

SUE MI TERRY:

I'm not sure if it's necessarily worse, but it certainly has [not] improved. I would say it's worse because they're improving their missile program. It at least feels like it's not worse because the missile test is not happening in front of our eyes, these scary intercontinental ballistic missile tests. But they've been working on it. So unless we can resolve the North Korean crisis, the threat has not gone away at all.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So I guess the one thing we have achieved here is a reduction in the tension that we saw very early in the Trump administration, right? With Kim doing the rapid tests and Tr

ump doing the fire and fury. So that has gone away. How important is that?

SUE MI TERRY:

I do think it's important that we have some reduction of threat, a sense, right, because those were anxiety-filled days for Korea watchers like myself in 2017. And the whole talk of preventive war, bloody nose, is just not very helpful. Not only in dealing with North Korea, but with our allies like South Korea.

South Korea was very unnerved by that kind of talk, preventive war talk. So I do think that's good that we're not talking about war in the Korean peninsula. So that is good. But as we just talked about, the fact of the matter is, North Korea's missile capability and nuclear capability is there. Their threat is there. They're improving on that capability. So it's not time for us to sit here and relax and think everything is fine just because North Korea's not testing

ICBMs.

MICHAEL MORELL:

What about the sanctions? What's the status of the sanctions? Have they started to erode from where they were at the peak? Are they pretty much the same? How do you think about that?

SUE MI TERRY:

Sanctions are definitely eroding. Not because we have lifted any of the sanctions, but because what's so important about sanctions is that we get countries like China and Russia to implement sanctions. That's why I said earlier that in 2017, in the fall, we got China to actually implement sanctions.

Now, in the aftermath of President Trump meeting with Kim, Xi Jinping has also met with Kim four times now. Their actual relationship is back on track, China and North Korea. Until the president met with Kim, or made a decision to meet with Kim, Xi  

Jinping had never met with Kim Jong Un since Kim Jong Un came into power.

Xi Jinping had met with the South Korean leader, former President Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in many times, but not with Kim Jong Un. Actually, Xi Jinping didn't even like Kim because Kim killed Jang Song Thaek, the second most powerful man in North Korea, his uncle who was an interlocutor with the Chinese. Assassinated Kim Jong-nam, his half brother who was under the protection of China.

All these missile and nuclear tests. The Chinese were very unhappy with that. But now they're back in the picture. Xi met with Kim. Xi Jinping hosted Kim Jong Un and his wife and even visited Pyongyang. So now, China is loosening the implementation of sanctions.

So it's not a good stage because now that's giving breathing space to North Korea. And

so if we want to use sanctions as leverage, it's not good news for the United States and the international community when sanctions are not implemented on the ground and you're giving breathing space to the North Koreans.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Sue, what do you expect to happen between the United States and North Korea between now and our election?

SUE MI TERRY:

So I think there are two scenarios. And both scenarios are bad for the United States. One scenario is that there will be an interim deal. That President Trump decides that he needs a foreign policy success story. He did after [all] say the North Korean threat was no longer there after the Singapore Summit. So there is a deal.

But what North Koreans are asking for is massive sanctions relief. So I don't believe we're going to have a deal unless we're ready to give some big sanctions relief. And  

in return, we'll get maybe just a freeze of nuclear testing. And they'll pull up the Yongbyon nuclear plant, which they've closed before. So there might be an interim deal of some sort, which I don't believe is necessarily moving towards denuclearization. It's sort of a freeze.

MICHAEL MORELL:

In order to get that deal, we'd have to give them pretty much everything they wanted?

SUE MI TERRY:

Right, which is massive sanctions relief, which is what they asked for even in Hanoi. And that's why it fell apart. Or, we don't do that. There's no interim deal. Kim Jong Un says, "The timeline is until the end of the year." The end of the year clock runs out. There is no deal. Come January, there's no [deal].

And I'm not sure if North Koreans would necessarily sort of revert back to the ICBM tests and nuke tests because they know

that's sort of the red line for President Trump. But there're many things that they can do that are just short of that threshold, such as medium range missile tests over Japan. Or even a satellite launch.

A satellite launch is very interesting because it uses ballistic missile technology, so it's really an ICBM test, but still, North Koreans can at least insist that this is different, that it's a satellite launch. Maybe even President Trump might say, "Listen, this is a satellite launch. And other countries can do this." So I think either we have a deal or we return to provocations.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And what's the point of the provocations if you're North Korea? What are you trying to achieve with the provocations?

SUE MI TERRY:

You are continually dialing up pressure,

right? So if you do a medium range test over Japan, if you do a satellite launch, they're headed towards that nuke test. And let's say, now this is an election year, let's say we're now talking March, April of next year. They're trying to dial up the pressure for either the US to come in and say, "Okay, fine, we'll give you almost everything you want."

MICHAEL MORELL:

And get to that interim deal you talked about?

SUE MI TERRY:

Or they just run out the clock, wait for the election, see if President Trump gets reelected. And then maybe they will deal with it then, or a new president in the US. And then, of course, the long term goal for North Korea, and I still think this is a long term goal and this is what they're seeking, is to gain international acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear weapons power.

They want to be Pakistan, right? For the international community to accept North Korea as a responsible nuclear weapons power.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Why is that a bad thing at the end of the day? Why should we worry about that? Why should it be our policy not to let that happen?

SUE MI TERRY:

First of all, just the message it's sending to all other countries, world countries around there, like Iran and others that are watching, that all you have to do is just keep at it and we'll just accept it. Secondly, I think one of the biggest concerns is regional proliferation because once we accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons power, what is South Korea going to do?

South Korea is already now talking about it. There are conservative circles out of South

Korea right now talking about potentially developing their own nuclear weapons, or at least bringing tactical nuclear weapons back. And then Japan, with Prime Minister Abe has been trying to work on trying to normalize Japan in terms of their self-defense forces to having a normal military.

What will Japan do? Would Japan possibly go nuclear? So we're worried about regional proliferation. And, of course, we're also worried about global proliferation, in additional to this wrong message we're sending to the rest of the world and the rogue nations.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Sue, can you envision a deal that would be acceptable to both sides?

SUE MI TERRY:

I can envision a deal if we have a different mindset. So if we say to ourselves, "Let's talk to arms control because we're never going to get to denuclearization. So let's

get realistic." And there are many arms control scholars and experts who say, "This is about threat reduction."

So if we can get to a deal where they freeze all their fissile material production, they freeze all programs. And that it can be verified that they're doing so, they're abiding by that. Then I can some sort of a deal that's possible. If you get into the mindset that that's okay. But that's the debate, is that okay or is that not okay because that's really accept North Korea--

MICHAEL MORELL:

That's accepting it, right.

SUE MI TERRY:

--as a nuclear weapons power. And I failed to mention beyond regional proliferation, another concern about really accepting North Korea as a nuclear weapons power is that there is a concern that their behavior, North Korean behavior, is not necessarily going to get better once they're fully

accepted as a nuclear weapons power. But that their behavior can get even more aggressive because now they think they have the deterrent against the United States.

And so meaning sort of border clashes that used to occur with South Korea could still occur, or the asymmetrical warfare like cyber, that can all continue. So it's not like North Korea's threat is going to go away or provocations are going to go away just because we accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons power. In fact, they could get more confident and continue on with provocations.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Do you think North Korea still envisions reunification of peninsula on their terms?

SUE MI TERRY:

It's a very difficult question because on one hand, I do think the North Koreans cannot give up ultimately on the idea of reunification on its own terms because to

live with a richer, freer, democratic rival state, which is what North Korea's doing right now. South Korea is a rival state. They're just right there for everyone to see. It's a free, richer rival state.

And ultimately, North Korea's, of course, worried about German style unification, right? Unification but absorption. This is their ultimate fear. So I don't think they can give it up. Now, the question though is, is Kim Jong Un aware of how realistic that scenario is?

South Korea is a thriving democracy. You saw what they did as a public. Candlelight vigils ousted their last president. It's a thriving democracy. Can this kind of democratic nation be okay to be just completely unified by North Korea on its own terms? But as a goal, can North Korea afford to give up that goal? I don't think so. So my answer would be I don't think North Korea gave it up as a goal. Just as a practical

matter, I'm not sure if it's so realistic.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. So let me ask several broader questions about North Korea. And these will be kind of random. How do you think about Kim Jong Un's domestic, political position?

SUE MI TERRY:

I think he has consolidated power and his domestic position is strong. Although, I would think that the long term picture domestically, I don't think is so stable. It's just an inherently unstable system. The reason is, for example, information, that North Korea controls its own public with a complete information blockade and ideological indoctrination, but information is seeping into North Korea more and more through the China-North Korea border. And Kim cannot completely stop that. Private markets are thriving, black markets. Kim cannot stop that. This is the only way people are able--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Surviving?

SUE MI TERRY:

--to live, survive. So he cannot stop that. And even the elites though, even though they support him, because Kim purged almost anybody who can be a rival to him, I would think that long term, elites would be worried about their future because of so many purges and the very ruthless way in which Kim has consolidated power. So I would say, yes, he has consolidated power right now. No, we don't see any kind of potential challengers to Kim because Kim got rid of them. But overall, the long term stability picture is still not a great one.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So I remember, as you know, I worked on North Korea a long, long, long, long time ago. I don't want to say how long ago. (LAUGH) But even at that time, we were saying, "This system can't survive forever."  

But boy, it's hung on, right?

SUE MI TERRY:

Yes. I often describe it as like a coma patient, right? You heard that phrase before. It's like a coma patient. It's sort of you can go any day, or you can just go on another 50 years.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. Right. Let me ask about the human rights situation in North Korea, which we don't hear much about, doesn't get discussed. Certainly, the United States has not made it the kind of issue that we used to make it. Has it gotten any better? Has it gotten worse? Is it roughly the same as it's been? How do you think about that?

SUE MI TERRY:

I don't think it has gotten any better. This is sort of the thing that I regret about this as policy. I do think when President Trump first came into office in 2017 he did at least appear that he cared about North K

orea's human rights issue.

The State of the Union Address. He brought Otto Warmbier's family to the State of the Union Address. He invited a North Korean defector. He hosted several meetings with North Korean defectors. When he went to South Korea, he gave this big speech in front of the National Assembly.

He addressed North Korean human rights. But all of that sort of got thrown out just because he wanted to now not annoy Kim. No, the human rights situation has not gotten better. The United Nations Commission inquiry came out with a 400 page report several years ago that really details all the human rights violations that are going on in North Korea, which is an excellent report.

It says, "There's no parallel in contemporary history to the human rights violations that are going on in North Korea,  

except to Nazi Germany." So that's how bad it is. They call what's happening in North Korea a crime against humanity. And they list Kim Jong Un by name as somebody who perpetuates crime against humanity.

And we see no indication that North Korea has changed or closed any of the political prison camps that keep some 120,000 political prisoners. That's a completely separate system. There's a regular criminal penal system, and then there are political prisons where they keep these dissidents or anybody who dares to criticize Kim. So I do think it's a very sad situation. And, of course, we just don't focus enough on it. We don't prioritize enough on human rights in North Korea.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Sue, let me finish up here by asking you two final questions. The first is about the health of the US relationship with South Korea. Seems to be fraying a bit. Is that

your sense?

SUE MI TERRY:

Yes. It's definitely fraying because the US and South Korea right now are engaged in a border sharing negotiation. And, of course, President Trump came up with this figure of $5 billion that he's asking for South Koreans to pay, which is five times the money that they are paying.

President Trump just has said over and over many times for many years, this is something he actually believes in, which is that the US is getting taken advantage of by our allies. A country like South Korea is rich. They need to be paying more. So it's a particularly bad time.

And, of course, with the Korea-Japan relationship fraying, the US does not like that, what's happening with South Korea and Japan. And so I think this is a particularly difficult period. I would say the South Korean public does support alliance. When

you see the polls, they really do broadly support the alliance. They support the US presence in South Korea. But I think right now at this particular moment, they feel like they're being extorted with this ask of $5 billion for South Korea [defense].

MICHAEL MORELL:

And are there costs to us in the fraying of the relationship?

SUE MI TERRY:

Of course because I do think South Korea's one of the closest allies in the region. Our troops are in South Korea also not only to deter North Korea, right? This is also to protect Japan, it's our forward presence. It has also to do with dealing with China.

And South Korea and the US have stood side by side for over 70 plus years keeping peace not only on the Korean peninsula, but in the entire Northeast Asian region. South Korea's a very important ally. And we are there in South Korea not only for South Korea, but we  

have interests in the region. So I do think just really rhetorically and just by demanding that they pay so much more, this is really hurting even the public perception of the alliance right now.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Does the health of the relationship have any political impact in South Korea on South Korean politics?

SUE MI TERRY:

So South Korean politics are interesting right now. There's a National Assembly election that's coming up in April. Yes. Normally, if the public saw it as the Moon Jae-in administration's fault that the alliance is fraying, it would actually cost the Moon Jae-in administration politically. But because right now they see us, the United States, asking for $5 billion as so unreasonable, that's not what's going to be hurting the Moon administration from the public's perspective--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Got you. Got you. So Sue, the second question I had was, and you mentioned it already, the state of the relationship between Japan and South Korea. What's the story there?

SUE MI TERRY:

It's the worst that it has ever been in terms of the Korea-Japan relationship. I think most people are surprised when they hear it. They're not aware Korea-Japan, historically the relationship between the two countries. They're two allies of the United States. They're mature, liberal democracies.

Yet historically, their relationship has always had ups and downs ever since Japan colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945. And even though there was a normalization agreement in 1965, it's just unsettled over historical grievances, over issues like comfort women, over the South Koreans feeling like the

Japanese have not apologized enough, and so on.

But the recent spate of tension, recent tension, basically what happened was when the administration came in, he decided to go scrap the deal that took place between former South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japan on the comfort women deal. And the Moon administration sort of said, "No, we're not going to abide by that agreement."

MICHAEL MORELL:

And just a reminder, the comfort women issue is?

SUE MI TERRY:

The sex slaves issue. That the Japanese basically forced women from many countries, but including South Korea, to basically work as sex slaves during the war.

MICHAEL MORELL:

For Japanese soldiers?

SUE MI TERRY:

For the Japanese soldiers. There's a

disagreement on that issue, how that's perceived. After going back on the comfort women deal, there was a South Korean Supreme Court decision that said they're forcing Japanese companies to basically pay for wartime labor of South Koreans. That South Koreans can individually sue the Japanese.

That was the last straw for the Japanese. So they retaliated economically by taking South Korea off the white list. And then South Korea retaliated by taking Japan off the white list. And right now, there is what you call an intel-sharing deal between Japan and South Korea, called GSOMIA.

Really, that helps the US, South Korea and Japan work together in terms of intelligence sharing. It's very important because it helps us deal with China, it helps us deal with North Korea. And that is about to expire on November 22nd. And so that has caused all kinds of tension too. It's been coming for the last several years. But I

would say today, the Korea-Japan relationship is at its worst.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And should we, the United States, be doing something to help bring these two allies back together that we're not doing? Or are we doing what we should be doing here?

SUE MI TERRY:

I think we can do more. In the previous administration, the Korea-Japan always had ups and downs. But the more the US gets engaged, there are periods when it's better, right? So under the Obama administration, Tony Blinken and others sort of forced the Koreans and the Japanese to sit down regularly and talk to each other.

So I do think the US must be engaged. These are two of the closest allies, friends of the United States. It's critical that the trilateral relationship is a good one. And it just hurts our interest to see these two allies at each other's throats like this.

It's very sad to see. And I hope we can find a way out of this.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Sue, thank you so much for joining us. It is always good to have you on the show.

SUE MI TERRY:

Thank you for having me.

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