DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President Trump seems optimistic about a potential face-to-face with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The president talked about this last night during a joint press conference with Japan's prime minister. Trump did give a caveat.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If I think that it's a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we're not going to go. If the meeting, when I'm there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting. And we'll continue what we're doing or whatever it is that will continue. But something will happen.
GREENE: All right. This will happen. We will bring in NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson here. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So what does fruitful mean? The president saying if it's not fruitful, he would leave the meeting with Kim. Do you have any idea what he's talking about?
LIASSON: That's a really good question. I think the president's comments shows you that these talks are not precooked. No results are guaranteed as in other high-level summits which occur after months of planning and preparation. But the president wants North Korea to denuclearize. Kim Jong Un has said he's willing to discuss that. But what does that mean to each party? Kim thinks of his nukes as an insurance policy that he and his regime can survive. He would want the U.S. to give North Korea a security guarantee, remove its own nuclear weapons and troops from the Korean peninsula. The U.S., at a minimum, wants North Korea to give up its weapons but also give up three Americans who are imprisoned there, and the president said yesterday, a number of abducted Japanese.
GREENE: Although he - I mean, he was very clear that that would not necessarily be a precondition.
LIASSON: No, certainly no preconditions for this meeting.
GREENE: Although wasn't - I mean, help me understand the role that CIA Director Mike Pompeo's trip played in all of this. I thought that was, you know, a preliminary trip to make sure that there was - what? - the potential enough that this could be fruitful that it's worth sending the president?
LIASSON: Yes, and apparently that is what they've concluded. They are using Pompeo's trip also as a way to push Pompeo's nomination for secretary of state. He's facing some potential difficulties in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, if not on the full floor of the Senate. But the U.S. has always used the intelligence agencies as a back channel to North Korea. And Pompeo did not go there in his capacity as the secretary of state nominee. He went there as the CIA director. So it was an intelligence mission, not a diplomatic mission.
GREENE: OK. So at that press conference, the president also was asked about Russia and special counsel Robert Mueller. Is he staying on the, quote, "no collusion" message that he's been on for so long now?
LIASSON: Absolutely. He ripped the investigation as usual. But he also talked about how cooperative he's been. And he seemed to suggest he wasn't about to fire Robert Mueller, as he has said privately he would like to do. Here's what the president said.
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TRUMP: They've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months. And they're still here. So we want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us.
LIASSON: That's a slightly different tone from the one that his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has been taking recently. She said the president believes he has the legal authority to remove Mueller without her usual caveat that he wasn't planning to do that. Now the president seems to be going back to a more cooperative stance.
GREENE: OK. So taking aim at the investigation repeatedly but withholding firing Mueller. Is - can you argue this is an effective political strategy for the White House?
LIASSON: Absolutely. There - you can argue that undermining Mueller's credibility is better politically than risking the political blowback of actually firing him. And our recent poll, the NPR/PBS Marist Poll shows that it's having some effect because the FBI director's favorability ratings have dropped over the past month as the president and other Republicans have continued to attack Mueller and the investigation.
GREENE: NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.