STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This week's meeting in Singapore has some of the trappings of the lead-up to a heavyweight prize fight.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And maybe that's not so surprising since one participant used to promote boxing. All right, so after months of trash talk, the two contenders are in separate hotels. They're less than a half-mile apart. They appeared in separate photo ops, and then they met separately with Singapore's leader. And tomorrow morning local time, they will meet each other one-on-one.
INSKEEP: Our team will be covering it. And NPR's Scott Horsley is already in Singapore.
Hey there, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Steve.
INSKEEP: What's the meeting space like?
HORSLEY: It's taking place at a resort hotel on Sentosa Island here in Singapore. This island's an old British military base, or was during the Colonial era, and later served as a POW camp under Japanese domination. Today, it's home to a Universal Studios theme park. And maybe that's fitting because it's been a (inaudible) roller-coaster ride of diplomacy leading (inaudible) to this.
HORSLEY: The president impulsively agreed to accept Kim's invitation, then pulled out of the summit a couple months later. (Inaudible) but eight days after that. And since then, we have seen a flurry of diplomatic activity, trying to get ready for this meeting. And that's continued right up to the last minute. There was a U.S. team meeting with their North Korean counterparts this morning, trying to put some meat on the bones for the principals' get-together tomorrow or later tonight, U.S. time.
INSKEEP: Well, why don't you put the meat on the bones for us here, Scott? We know the U.S. goal in a sentence - to denuclearize North Korea, to get rid of their nuclear weapons. But there are so many questions about how you do that, how fast you do that, on what terms, what North Korea gets back. Is it clear beyond that one sentence what the United States wants?
HORSLEY: The White House has conceded that that complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons program isn't going to happen all in one meeting. But the president told reporters he thinks he will know very quickly whether Kim is serious about surrendering his nuclear weapons. And it's worth noting that in the past, North Korea has agreed to do just that, has won concessions from the U.S. and others, and then has clandestinely gone about its nuclear research. So that's why the verification piece of the puzzle is so important. And it's a tall order. You know, North Korea's nuclear program is far more advanced than, say, Libya's or Iran's were.
INSKEEP: So Scott, the president has made a number of statements indicating he doesn't think he needs to prepare very much for this, that it's about attitude, about a willingness to get things done. You just referred to another of the president's statements, where he said, I think I'll know within a minute whether Kim Jong Un is serious about doing what needs to be done. Based on your conversations with people around the president, is that really his approach? Does he think this is purely something that can be dealt with by personalities and on instinct, or are there things going on behind the scenes, but he'd rather talk a little more like it's a boxing match?
HORSLEY: You know, Secretary Pompeo has talked about near-daily briefings that the president's been receiving, but the president himself downplays that sort of last-minute cramming and says, whatever happens, it's going to happen at the spur of the moment. This is a president who likes to act instinctively, impulsively. We saw that over the weekend when, you know, he had agreed to sign on to a communique with the G-7 allies and then decided to pull out of that after he saw something he didn't like from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That was a very hostile meeting that he went through in Canada with our European and other G-7 allies, and the president has been sowing discord with those old friends even as he tries to make peace with an old enemy.
INSKEEP: Well, that's going to lead right into our next subject. Scott Horsley, thanks very much.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley is in Singapore, which President Trump traveled to after that other summit, that G-7 summit, which was with America's friends, but was a lot less friendly.
GREENE: Yeah. I mean, the president left the G-7 summit calmly enough, but then he left behind this stream of angry tweets as he was circling the globe. He was angry that Canada criticized these new U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel. He called Canada's prime minister weak. Trump's advisers claimed they had been, quote, "stabbed in the back." And now we see that Germany is responding to those U.S. tariffs by saying that the European Union is going to respond. German Chancellor Angela Merkel revealed this on a talk show on the German broadcaster ARD. The studio audience there was cheering her on as she called President Trump's withdrawal from a G-7 agreement sobering.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) The whole issue is not great. That is why I have talked about sobering, which is a lot for me.
MERKEL: (Through interpreter) I can even call it depressing, but personally, I don't believe that a continuation of this heated language will help the issue.
INSKEEP: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is covering this story from Berlin.
Hey there, Soraya.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So OK, Merkel says that she's going to respond to the United States, which is cracking down on U.S. allies. But how exactly can the European Union respond here?
NELSON: Well, what they're planning to do is impose a series of retaliatory tariffs, if you will - not just on aluminum and steel, but some unusual objects, perhaps, but very American. I can list some of them for you, if you'd like.
INSKEEP: Please; go right ahead.
NELSON: OK. So we're talking about things like Harley-Davidsons, bourbon, jeans, orange juice, peanut butter. And then the Canadians, for example, are adding in ketchup, insecticide and toilet paper, I've read. So it's a hodgepodge of things, but the idea is to come up with, basically, retaliation and to try and persuade the president that perhaps a trade war is not the way to go.
INSKEEP: You know, I suppose if nothing else, this is an opportunity for us to be educated on all the things that we buy and sell in different parts of the world. But with this said, the Germans and others - the Europeans - are also appealing U.S. tariffs to the World Trade Organization. Is it possible that the U.S. could just get slapped down here?
NELSON: Probably not. I mean, the World Trade Organization, as you mentioned, is going to the arbiter. They haven't even announced yet exactly when they're going to hear the case. They're talking at this - or what's widely believed at this point is that they're going to combine the Canadian, European and Mexican complaints about U.S. tariffs and then, you know, that they will make a decision. In the meantime, though, July 1 seems to be the deadline, and the Europeans are going to go forward with it, as are the Canadians, according to what we've heard.
INSKEEP: Very briefly, Soraya, the president said on the way into that G-7 meeting he wanted to put Russia back in the G-8, which - they'd been kicked out of it. It was called the G-8 at one time. However, the director of national intelligence is saying that Russia is actively trying to interfere in the 2018 election and continuing to take other measures against the United States. Are Europeans eager to have Russia back in the G-7?
NELSON: Well, this is where you see the disconnect because the Italian prime minister, the new guy, was like, yeah, let's do what Trump says. And the rest of the Europeans are saying, absolutely no way, especially the U.K., which is dealing with the aftermath of the spy poising, or the double agent poisoning from awhile back. So it's not something that the Europeans are eager to do unless they see some sort of changes within the Russian response to things - elections and et cetera.
INSKEEP: OK. Soraya, thanks very much, as always.
NELSON: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: OK, we're learning a little more about what led to a new question on the United States census. In 2020, the Trump administration plans for the Census Bureau to ask, is this person a citizen of the United States?
GREENE: Right. The Trump administration added the language, saying it wants better citizenship data. Immigrant advocates are worried about consequences here, and dozens of states and cities are suing to get rid of the question. And as part of those lawsuits, more than a thousand pages of documents have come to light.
INSKEEP: Which means NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been reading. Hey there, Hansi.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.
INSKEEP: What are you learning from all these pages?
WANG: Well, there is an internal Census Bureau memo prepared for Secretary Wilbur Ross - Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, and it warned that adding a citizenship question would be very costly, would harm the quality of the census count and would be a less accurate way of getting information about citizenship compared to other government records that give this information. And this has really big implications because, of course, census numbers are used to reapportion congressional seats among the states after each census. As - that also determines how many votes in the Electoral College each state gets, as well as $800 billion a year in federal funding. That's how census numbers are used to distribute that.
Also interesting - there are emails to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and his staff from Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state. You might remember him helping to lead the now-defunct voter fraud commission President Trump started. These emails say that Kris Kobach was directed by Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist, to talk to Wilbur Ross about a citizenship question.
INSKEEP: OK, so just to underline what you're telling me here, you're saying that professionals within the Census Bureau warned that this - adding this question was costly and didn't make any sense, but that Steve Bannon wanted it - a nationalist who was close to President Trump at the time - and that other people wanted it who've got a particular political outlook. But there's one other thing there - the argument that it would make for a less accurate count. Why would it make for a less accurate count to ask for a little more information?
WANG: The concern here is that this question has not been tested. And the Census Bureau does a lot of tests and preparations to make sure that - how people are - respond to these questions, and they're concerned that noncitizens will be very sensitive to this question, especially in this climate of increasing immigration enforcement and anti-immigrant rhetoric. And so this is a last-minute change that people are very worried that will really affect the census count in 2020.
INSKEEP: Oh, in a sentence, here is the fear that even people who are in the U.S. legally may be reluctant to participate because they think that someone's going to target them.
WANG: Yes, possibly. There are a lot of mixed-status families, folks living with folks who are undocumented.
INSKEEP: Hansi, thanks very much, as always.
WANG: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.
(SOUNDBITE OF SAXON SHORE'S "FOUR MONTHS OF DARKNESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.