SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump is trying to make nuclear peace with North Korea even as he launches a trade war with some of America's closest allies. Trump's on and off summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is on again now for the moment. The two men will meet in Singapore in 10 days as the president tries to convince Kim to give up nuclear weapons.
Canada, Mexico and the European Union tried to talk Trump out of using an economic weapon, tariffs, on imported steel and aluminum. The president wasn't persuaded. The tariffs took effect early yesterday. NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us. Scott, thanks so much for being with us.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.
SIMON: Why is the summit back on?
HORSLEY: Well, the president's negotiators have been scrambling for a while to put this back together after he pulled out eight days ago - nine days ago. At the time he pulled out, they said the North Koreans had been ignoring U.S. entreaties, hadn't been answering the phone. But now it seems the North Koreans are interested in doing this. The president had a lengthy meeting yesterday in the Oval Office with one of Kim Jong Un's top deputies. And he's come to believe the North Koreans really are serious about surrendering their nuclear weapons. But he's also tempering expectations for the summit, saying this could be just the beginning of a drawn-out disarmament.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're not going to go in and sign something on June 12, and we never were. We're going to start a process. And I told them today, take your time. We can go fast. We can go slowly. But I think they'd like to see something happen and if we can work that out, that would be great. But the process will begin on June 12 in Singapore.
HORSLEY: You know, Scott, last week Trump had said he would prefer to see North Korea's nuclear program dismantled all in one fell swoop, but it now sounds as if he's absorbing what the nuclear experts have been saying, which is that disarmament, if it happens at all, is going to be a lengthy process.
SIMON: And in the meantime, the U.S. maintains tough economic sanctions?
HORSLEY: Yes, although here, too, the president has dialed down his rhetoric just a bit. In the past, Trump has emphasized this campaign of what he calls maximum pressure on North Korea. And those economic sanctions remain in place. But at least yesterday, he was deliberately avoiding using the term maximum pressure because he said, we're getting along. At some point, the president says, he looks forward to lifting sanctions against North Korea. And he thinks there could be other rewards if Kim Jong Un agrees to give up his nuclear weapons. In terms of economic aid, though, the president says that is more likely to come from North Korea's Asian neighbors, not the United States.
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TRUMP: I think they really want to see something great happen. Japan does. South Korea does. And I think China does. But that's their neighborhood. That's not our neighborhood.
SIMON: Quick question. I've got to add, Scott, President Trump spent more than an hour in the Oval Office with one of Kim Jong Un's top deputies, former spy chief of North Korea. Did the subject of human rights ever come up?
HORSLEY: The president was asked about that. And he said no, he didn't bring it up, although he suggested he might do so when he meets in Singapore with Kim Jong Un. I should say in the past the president has not talked a lot publicly about human rights when he meets with other autocratic leaders. If he brings the subject up at all, he prefers to do so quietly.
SIMON: Let's move to this country's tariffs on some of America's closest allies. The president ordered steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico, the EU. How's it going over so far?
HORSLEY: The stock market was not too happy about it, although the sell-off Thursday when the tariffs were announced was somewhat muted. Some of Trump's fellow Republicans have been unusually vocal in criticizing this move. They worry that tariffs will drive up prices for consumers and businesses in this country and also that, you know, our trading partners will retaliate by slapping tariffs of their own on U.S. exports. And indeed, those threats have already materialized.
SIMON: And what are some of the implications for the U.S. economy?
HORSLEY: Well, you know, the economy has been humming along. Just yesterday, we got news that employers added 223,000 jobs last month. That's a total of 3.6 million jobs in the 19 months since the 2016 election, almost as many as the 4.1 million jobs added in the previous 19 months. An escalating trade war could throw a wrench into the works, but White House economist Kevin Hassett told us that he thinks this could pay off in the long run.
KEVIN HASSETT: There's a tremendous upside for the president's policy, which is that our trading partners start to act like us. If that happens, then tariff barriers around the world will come down, and American exports will skyrocket. That will be great for the American economy and the American worker.
HORSLEY: That's the optimistic view anyway.
SIMON: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks so much for being with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.