AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're standing by this evening for a historic handshake between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The two are preparing to meet in Singapore after a diplomatic whirlwind that began three months ago with Kim's surprise invitation, Trump's surprise acceptance, then his cancellation, and finally Trump saying it was back on. The White House is hoping these talks will ultimately lead to the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program. President Trump says he expects to know within a minute of meeting Kim whether the North Korean leader is serious.
NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from Singapore. Hey there, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So diplomats have been working right up to the last minute to prepare for this summit. Is the table now set for some nuclear deal-making to happen?
HORSLEY: Audie, the administration is certainly sounding upbeat about that possibility, although Trump himself warns it's always tough to predict the outcome of any negotiation. Ordinarily, you would have low-level diplomats work out a lot of the details. And then if all goes well, you would bring the leaders together to sort of put a bow on this diplomatic effort.
In this case, though, Kim and Trump turned that process on its head. They announced from the get-go that they were going to meet. And since then, the diplomats have just been racing to keep up. In the last 24 hours here in Singapore, negotiators have been meeting to flesh out what Trump and Kim will be talking about. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says those conversations have been going well.
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MIKE POMPEO: They're in fact moving quite rapidly. And we anticipate they will come to their logical conclusion even more quickly than we had anticipated.
HORSLEY: Trump is now planning to leave Singapore late Tuesday rather than early Wednesday. But the administration is still talking about this meeting as just setting the conditions for future talks. So this is the beginning of a process, not the end.
CORNISH: The beginning, not the end. What is each side actually hoping to get out of them?
HORSLEY: Well, the U.S. wants what it's always wanted, which is the complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program. Pompeo and Trump both say they're not budging on that, although they have shown some wiggle room on timing. They acknowledge that a program that's as far along as North Korea's can't be dismantled overnight.
For Kim, he's already getting some of what he wants simply by virtue of having this summit. He's sharing the stage with a sitting U.S. president. That enhances his prestige and legitimacy. He would also like to see international sanctions against North Korea relaxed. And while Trump insists he's not loosening the screws, we are already beginning to see some sliding by other countries. And analysts warn it's going to be difficult to put that maximum pressure campaign back together.
CORNISH: The president has also promised security guarantees for Kim if he gives up his nuclear weapons along with economic assistance. So what would that combination look like?
HORSLEY: It's not entirely clear. Pompeo was asked about the possibility of maybe withdrawing some of the 28,000 or so U.S. troops that are stationed in South Korea. The secretary wouldn't talk directly about troop levels. But he did say the administration is willing to go further than other presidents have done in the past.
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POMPEO: We're prepared to take actions that will provide them sufficient certainty that they can be comfortable that denuclearization isn't something that ends badly for them - indeed, just the opposite, that it leads to a brighter, better future for the North Korean people.
HORSLEY: You know, Trump himself has complained about the cost of maintaining the military presence in South Korea. But analysts warn any drawdown would just reinforce doubts in the region about America's staying power in the Pacific.
CORNISH: What about the other allies? I mean, they're obviously watching this quite closely.
HORSLEY: Absolutely. Trump spoke Monday with South Korea's president and the Japanese prime minister. Japan is obviously nervous about a more empowered North Korea. South Korea's president, on the other hand, has been playing matchmaker here. He worked hard to resurrect this summit after Trump called it off a few weeks ago.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Scott Horsley in Singapore. Thank you.
HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.