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News Brief: North Korea Crisis Overshadows Trump's European Trip


Two big events are shifting a lot of attention overseas, one we expected and one we did not.


OK. First, the one we expected - President Trump heads to Europe today. He'll attend a G-20 summit there later this week. And while he's there, he'll meet face-to-face with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, for the first time since taking office. Now meanwhile, the event that came as a surprise this week - that's another missile launch by North Korea. This one showed enough range to strike Alaska. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says it's an escalation, and he added, global action is required to stop a global threat.

MARTIN: OK. Joining us now - Tamara Keith, NPR White House correspondent; also Tom Bowman, who covers the Pentagon. Good morning to you both.


TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Let's start with North Korea. Tom, Secretary Tillerson said global action is required, as we heard Mary Louise quote there. What does global action mean here?

BOWMAN: Well, clearly, he's talking diplomatic action not military action. If you look at his whole quote, he talks about any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits or fails to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions. So it's all diplomatic talk. And clearly, he's focusing on China here because North Korea's main trading partner is China. Eighty-five percent of North Korean trade is with China. So...

MARTIN: And Trump has said again and again, China is the key. You've got to press China to...

BOWMAN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...Effect change in North Korea.

BOWMAN: Everyone I talked with said this is all a diplomatic effort now. You're going through Tillerson to do this. Now clearly, it's not working.


BOWMAN: So you're going to see probably more pressure on China here. That's what he's focused on. They've already sanctioned a Chinese bank, a very small one, near the North Korean border.


BOWMAN: So look for more of that kind of thing, really going after Chinese institutions, banks and saying, you're not going to be able to deal with the U.S. anymore if you keep this - if you don't put pressure on North Korea...


BOWMAN: ...If you don't get them to end their missile and nuclear program.

MARTIN: Tam, what have we heard directly from President Trump on this in the last 24 hours?

KEITH: He has been conspicuously quiet. In the immediate aftermath of the news coming out that there had been this test, before they knew that it was what it was, the president tweeted a couple of tweets that were, you know - does this guy have anything better to do with his life? - and also talking about putting pressure on China. But since then, it's been more than 24 hours since he said anything about it. He hasn't made any public statements. There haven't been any statements released from the White House. And they've been referring everything over to the Department of Defense and the State Department.

MARTIN: OK. So speaking of the Department of Defense, Tom, you just said that everything right now is still about diplomatic levers - putting pressure on China or putting pressure on Chinese banks, in particular. But at the same time, I'm remembering there was a big aircraft carrier or something, a big vessel was moved into the sea near South Korea. The U.S. is showing a lot of force, and the Pentagon has to be going through some kind of war game scenarios right now.

BOWMAN: Oh, they've been going through those war games for many, many years, maybe decades. And sending an aircraft carrier up there really doesn't mean much. It's called a show of force. Yesterday, the U.S. and South Korean militaries showed off some missiles as a show of force. It doesn't mean anything in a practical sense. But the - they do have plans for North Korea if they have to take military action. You could take out the launch sites or command centers. You could do massive cyberattacks to basically shut the place down. But everything in the military side is horrific. That's what the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis talked about.

MARTIN: All the options are bad.

BOWMAN: One of the reasons is, you know, North Korea has artillery that could shoot into Seoul.


BOWMAN: You have tens of millions of people that could be affected by this. This is not easy.

KELLY: One twist to ask you about, Tom, which is we mentioned China. China's President Xi, along with President Putin of Russia, put a de-escalation plan on the table. Any chance of that happening when there's no way to read this other than a clear and direct challenge by North Korea to the U.S.?

BOWMAN: It's really an interesting diplomatic effort here. Basically they're saying, you would freeze the North Korean program in exchange for the U.S. limiting or eliminating any sort of work with North Korea, any sort of military exercises. I don't think this administration would go for that or the Pentagon would go for that. But it's a very, very interesting diplomatic suggestion.

MARTIN: All right, I want to turn to the president's travel plans because he's getting on a plane bound for Europe again, Tam. There - a lot of tension was reported between President Trump and European leaders on previous visits there. Is that expected to subside this time?

KEITH: No because since the last visit, President Trump has pulled out of the Paris climate accord. The last time he was in Europe, the G7 leaders spent most of the time he was there trying to persuade him not to pull out of Paris. He went home and pulled out of Paris, so that awkwardness is likely to continue.

MARTIN: He's going to Poland first, before this G-20 though, right? Probably a warmer reception there.

KEITH: Yeah, he is going to Poland first. And there, he's going to make a big speech laying out his vision for the future of the transatlantic relationship. His aides say that he is likely to endorse the Mutual Defense Treaty that he didn't really endorse the last time he was there and had to endorse later. But his aides also said that last time, so we will keep an eye on that.

MARTIN: And lastly, big tete-a-tete here. President Trump has been at these gatherings with world leaders before, and Vladimir Putin has been around. But the two have never sat down face-to-face. That's going to happen. Any details at this point from the White House about what the agenda for that conversation might be?

KEITH: Well, actually, the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told reporters - and this was a little while ago, but it hasn't changed as far as we know - that the president has no specific agenda for his discussion with Putin.

MARTIN: Just whatever comes to his mind perhaps.

KEITH: (Laughter) Perhaps, though there is certainly plenty they could talk about.

MARTIN: Indeed.

KELLY: And just to underscore, it would have been hard to imagine a few days ago that a Trump-Putin meeting could have been overshadowed by any other story. That's been so long-awaited. And yet, here we have this North Korea nuclear missile crisis erupting even as Trump gets on that plane.

MARTIN: Which would be hard to imagine...


MARTIN: ...That wouldn't come up in that. meeting.

All right, Tamara Keith covers the White House for us. Tom Bowman covers the Pentagon. Thanks to you both today.

KEITH: You're welcome.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.


MARTIN: Now to this political crisis in Turkey that has pushed protesters out on the streets for a very long march.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

KELLY: OK, protesters there on a rainy day. But they have already marched nearly 200 miles on this walk. Demonstrators left the capital of Ankara nearly three weeks ago. Turkey's main opposition party launched this march to protest the government's crackdown on dissenters and the vote that gave President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers. Erdogan accuses the protesters of working with terrorist groups. Meanwhile, some supporters are casting this effort in a non-violent light. They're comparing it to Gandhi's famous Salt March back in 1930.

MARTIN: All right, we'll see if that comparison stacks up. NPR's Peter Kenyon is with us now. So Peter, this is about the same political strife we've been hearing about for a long time. What's different about this march? Well, it's big and getting bigger.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: You mentioned the downpours yesterday, before that, a brutal heat wave. But this 250-mile walk on highways - no fun, really - led by a 69-year-old man who leads the opposition secular party - instead of dwindling away, it just keeps getting bigger. Now what it's about is, as you mentioned, these people who've lost their jobs. It's people who have been put in jail or journalists who have been sacked and also been jailed. It's a huge deal that's gone on for nearly a year now - nearly 150,000 people sacked or arrested, everybody from public servants, teachers, police, judges, prosecutors. So this is something people are latching onto as maybe showing some public displeasure with this.

MARTIN: Have you gotten a chance to talk with any of these people who are out there protesting? This is a long ways they're trying to walk.

KENYON: Yeah, yeah. They were - it was interesting yesterday in this city called Kocaeli that people were hanging out their windows, applauding them on. I met one woman named - her name's Nermin (ph) - standing on the sidelines. She cut quite a figure with a little dog under one arm, waving a bag of sandwiches under the other. She was looking for her son, who was one of the marchers. And she told me what had happened to her son. I'll give you a bit of the translation.

NERMIN: (Speaking foreign language).

KENYON: Now she says, her son lost his job at a public utility because she said he was a little too outspoken against the government. And this was years ago, before the coup attempt, back when most people saw Erdogan as a reformer. So now she's hoping this groundswell of protest will finally bring some change in policies.

MARTIN: Is it going to? I mean, is it going to make a difference?

KENYON: Well, that is the big question. This ends up on Sunday here in Istanbul, near a prison where a lot of people have been incarcerated after the purge. The government has allowed this march to proceed so far - lots of police, mainly keeping hecklers away. But when they get to Istanbul on Sunday and after that, a couple of big questions arise. Is this the end of it? Will the energy dissipate? Or will there be some new kind of activism launched?

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul - he's been reporting about this march in Turkey, protesters who are speaking out against the government of Erdogan there in Turkey.

Peter, thanks so much for your coverage of this.

KENYON: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKIS ABLIANITIS' "KISMET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.