John Kelly: Trump's 'got his eyes wide open' on emerging diplomacy between US and North Korea

  • John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, said he believes President Donald Trump is going into diplomatic talks with North Korea with his eyes "wide open."
  • Kelly talked to NPR News on a number of topics in an interview published on Thursday night. On the talks with Kim Jong Un set to kick off in Singapore next month, Kelly said that Trump "really wants this to work," citing some missteps of administrations past.
  • Trump, less than six months into 2018, has pivoted sharply from the bombastic chest-beating of last year when a military conflict between the US and North Korea seemed inevitable.
  • And while diplomatic relations have improved, experts warn there's plenty that can still go wrong before Trump and Kim reap the fruits of their endeavors.


John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, made clear that he has full confidence in President Donald Trump as he prepares to meet the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un face-to-face.

"This president's got his eyes wide open. Believe me, the president really wants this to work," Kelly told NPR News in an interview published on Thursday night, in which he spoke on a range of topics concerning the administration.

Trump plans to meet Kim in Singapore next month for what will be a first-of-its-kind summit between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader. As news outlets and policy experts have noted exhaustively in the last few months, the top-line subject will be the North's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

To that effect, Kelly says Trump knows what the stakes are, and suggested that the US president is driven by a firm belief that denuclearization begins with North Korea.

"We talk fairly frequently about nuclear weapons and he's just astounded that the United States, that the human race has got itself into this dilemma with all of these nuclear weapons," Kelly said.

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Trump welcomes home 3 US prisoners freed by North Korea
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump applauds the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who have been detained in North Korea. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: President Donald Trump greets the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R), greets three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, as President Donald Trump stands nearby, at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump walks with the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump walks with the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who have been detained in North Korea. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while standing with the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands nearby, at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands with two Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) applauds as US detainee Kim Dong-chul (2nd R) gestures upon his return with Kim Hak-song (behind) and Tony Kim (2nd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump applauds the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who have been detained in North Korea. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands nearby, at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C) speaks upon the return of US detainees Kim Dong-chul (3rd R), Kim Hak-song (R) and Tony Kim (2nd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C) speaks upon the return of US detainees Kim Dong-chul (4th L), Kim Hak-song (3rd R) and Tony Kim (3rd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) applauds as US detainee Kim Dong-chul (2nd R) gestures upon his return with Kim Hak-song (behind) and Tony Kim (2nd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) and wife Melania Trump (2nd L) walk with US detainees Tony Kim (2nd R), Kim Hak-song (R) and Kim Dong-chul (C) upon their return after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) applauds as US detainee Kim Dong-chul (2nd R) gestures upon his return with Kim Hak-song (hidden behind) and Tony Kim (2nd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 10: President Donald J. Trump disembarks a plane with first lady Melania Trump and three freed American prisoners after their arrival from North Korea at Joint Base Andrews on Thursday, May 10, 2018 in Joint Base Andrews, MD. The prisoner release appears to be a gesture to set the stage for a landmark summit between President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong Un. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with US detainee Tony Kim (C) as US Vice President Mike Pence (back L) and Melania Trump (L) look on, upon arrival after three detainees were freed by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C) speaks upon the return of US detainees Kim Dong-chul (3rd R), Kim Hak-song (R) and Tony Kim (2nd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, gives a thumbs-up as he walks with First Lady Melania Trump on the South Lawn of the White House after landing on Marine One following an event at Joint Base Andrews in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 10, 2018.Trump�personally welcomed home three Americans released from detention in North Korea, a triumphant middle-of-the-night moment for the president as he prepares for a landmark summit with�Kim Jong Un. Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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"To help North Korea give up its nuclear program and its missile program would be a wonderful thing," he added.

The motive isn't entirely altruistic, however. President Barack Obama, as he was leaving office, warned Trump the North's nuclear aggressions would be among the most dire threats Trump would encounter.

Experts have more or less offered similar admonitions. With the Trump-Kim summit about a month away, others have suggested the odds might be stacked against the US, because North Korea has already gotten what it wants. Trump has said he's willing to walk away from the talks if he's unsatisfied.

To that, Kelly insists the president won't let Kim manipulate him.

"I know he won't fall for it in the same way that past presidents have, that get strung along, strung along lifting sanctions, giving them money, and get nothing for it," Kelly said.

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