Sam Nunn Discusses Trump-Kim Summit on Bloomberg TV

Sam Nunn Discusses Trump-Kim Summit on Bloomberg TV

Want to dive deeper?

Visit the Education Center

The following is a transcript. Click here to view a video clip of the interview.

DAVID WESTIN:  Sam Nunn is familiar with the denuclearization process, both as a Democratic senator from his home state of Georgia, and then as co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.  He joins us now from Washington. Welcome Senator Nunn.  Really good to have you with us.

SAM NUNN:  Thank you.

WESTIN:  We want to talk about what it really means to denuclearize and what that process is.  But before that, let's get your overall reaction to the last 24 hours and this summit and the aftermath.

MR. NUNN:  Well, I think Winston Churchill might say if he were observing that this was the beginning of the beginning.  This is not anywhere near the completed agreement.  I'm sure it can be attacked from the right and from the left and it will be.  But if you look where we were six months ago, heading toward possible war with hundreds of thousands, if not more, killed and you look where we are now, I think there's been progress and I think there's hope here.  Could it break down?  Yes.  Do we have a lot of gaps to fill?  Absolutely we do.

Has President Trump learned a great deal about the difficulties of really implementing this kind of agreement with North Korea, I think there's been a lot of educational process in the last three months.  Have we made some concessions?  Yes.  Has North Korea made some concessions?  Well, I would call it so far, a faith-based, trust-based agreement, but we are in my view making progress and we have moved away from the precipice and hopefully the momentum can continue.  But there are some very large gaps.

WESTIN:  So give us a sense now what needs to come next.  As I said earlier, you actually have been through this process of denuclearization and when you talk about faith-based, trust-based, that's really about this process they've agreed to undertake.  How does that get started?  How long does it take?  What is the process?

NUNN:  I'd say step number 1 is to agree on the definition of denuclearization.  It's not at all clear what the North Koreans mean.  I think it's pretty clear what President Trump means, but not what the North Koreans mean.  The second thing is we've got to have an inventory.  We've got to have a declaration of the weapons of mass destruction that have been produced, the nuclear weapons, the nuclear material.  Third, I think we've got to get an agreement, verify an agreement to stop the production of weapons usable nuclear material.  And fourth, we've got to have  a comprehensive verification process.  That's not going to be easy, it's not going to be quick, but we've got to understand that everything has to be verified if we're going to have confidence in the future and if there's going to be a peaceful North Korean peninsula and South Korean peninsula.

WESTIN:  Take one of those items, the inventory of weapons of mass destruction, that should not take long at all, should it?  They should know what they have.

NUNN:  Well, they might know what they're going to submit to us, but do we know that what they give us is accurate?  That gets into verification and I think we have to have some cooperative work here.  Senator Lugar and I sponsored legislation that helped bring about a great deal of reduction in the former Soviet Union, including three countries getting rid of all their nuclear weapons, thousands of them.  It's a lot of hard work on the ground, but one of the most successful parts of it is cooperation, having our people help the North Koreans.

The people who produce the weapons need to be the ones who lead the way in taking them apart.  We need to monitor and we need to verify.  We're going to have to make sure we have the right to inspect places all over North Korea that may be suspicious.  They have a lot of underground work.  We're going to have to make sure that the weapons that are taken apart, the material coming out of them is secure and we've got to blend down — we've got to help them blend down moving away from weapons-usable nuclear material to uranium that is much lower enriched, and we've got to get rid of all of that in the long run.

We also have to tackle chemical and biological problems there, and of course the North Koreans were a huge conventional threat before they ever had a nuclear program.  So this is demilitarization.  It's beyond just denuclearization.  But it's going to take time.  It is step by step.  There's also going to have to be a sequence between the North Korea aspiration for relief on the sanctions and our goal of getting rid of the nuclear weapons and material.  And here again the cooperative threat approach can work because in that sense we pay for performance — they perform, they destroy, they get rid of things and we verify.  That's the process I see ahead if things work.

Of course, there's a long way to go and as President Trump said, there's going to have to be other meetings and we're going to have to have a delegation of authority to people, the top lieutenants from both North Korea and from the United States.  And we've got, most of all, to keep our allies close.  The Japanese have to know what's going on, our South Koreans friends need to be in on every step.  China and the United States must have a concept of cooperation and agreement as to the end-game.  And we need to get the Russians involved too.  So this is not just an U.S. effort, it's a global effort and it will affect the security not only of Korea, but of the whole region.

WESTIN:  As you say, the beginning of the beginning.  Senator, thank you so very much for your time today.  That's former Senator Sam Nunn, Nuclear Threat Initiative co-chairman. 

*  *  *  *  *

Stay Informed

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest on nuclear and biological threats.

Sign Up

The 2023 NTI Nuclear Security Index


The 2023 NTI Nuclear Security Index

“The bottom line is that the countries and areas with the greatest responsibility for protecting the world from a catastrophic act of nuclear terrorism are derelict in their duty,” the 2023 NTI Index reports.


My Resources