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News Brief: North Korea Threat, Notre Dame Closed For Christmas


It is Christmas Day, the day when North Korea said the United States should expect a Christmas present if it didn't ease sanctions by the end of this year.


So what exactly did that threat mean? Could it be a new missile test, possibly of one capable of delivering a nuclear warhead? Nobody really knows. But President Trump does not sound all that worried.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We'll see what happens. We'll - let's see. Maybe it's a nice present. Maybe it's a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test, right? I may get a vase. I may get a nice present from him. You don't know. You never know.

KING: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following all of this from Seoul, South Korea. Hey, Anthony.


KING: All right. So it's early morning here. It's evening where you are. Has anything happened today? Did the U.S. get the Christmas present, vase or otherwise?

KUHN: Not a single provocation under the tree here, so to speak.

KING: (Laughter).

KUHN: The day is almost over, and it didn't come. We should remember that, you know, these remarks about the Christmas present were made earlier this month by a North Korean vice foreign minister. It was never clear exactly what that present might be. And I think it probably was taken a bit more literally than it should have been. The U.S. and South Korean militaries have really been on edge, watching for signs of a provocation. There are no signs of movement on the North Korean side.

Heads of state of the U.S., North Korea's neighbors - China, Japan, South Korea - have all been conferring about what to do about this. But none of them really have any clear way to get the U.S. and North Korea back to the negotiating table, hence the sort of attitude you heard from President Trump, which is, whatever happens, we'll just have to deal with it.

KING: OK. So a bigger picture there beyond the present, right? Is North Korea changing its strategy?

KUHN: Well, that's the concern. Kim Jong Un and North Korea have been indicating all year that they could pull out of denuclearization talks with the U.S. in their self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing and go back to a policy of basically trying to get what they want through nuclear brinksmanship and provocations. Basically, what they're saying is they will just give up on nuclear negotiations, walk away from the table and then start beefing up their military, including their nuclear capabilities, until they have a more favorable balance of power with the U.S. and then come back and try to get a better deal.

Now, any announcement of such a major policy shift would most likely come from Kim Jong Un himself. That would probably be in his annual New Year's address. And it could - some indication could also come from the leadership of the ruling Workers' Party, which is expected to hold a special meeting by the end of the year, which means by next Tuesday, basically.

KING: OK. So basically, we're waiting a couple of days to see what would happen. But I think one of the big questions is, you know, back in 2017, you remember that President Trump was tweeting about fire and fury. Everyone was really worried. Is there any reason to think that we are going back to that kind of rhetoric?

KUHN: Well, I think analysts are mostly pretty glum about the prospects for continued negotiations, but not everyone is saying we're going back to that sort of brinksmanship and pressure tactics. And the reason is that Kim Jong Un still has a very rare potential window of opportunity here in that both the presidents of the U.S. and South Korea are willing to engage with him and cut a deal. And President Trump is still there for up to five years, and South Korea's President Moon is up there for another two. So it seems that, you know, they may not use all their cards at once. They may not ratchet up pressure all the way to a nuclear test. They may start one step at a time.

KING: OK. And just really quickly, how might the U.S. and its allies respond if North Korea does shift to a more hostile policy?

KUHN: Well, basically, there've been two camps all along, one that says we have to continue applying pressure until they give in. And the other is, we have to try to aim at arms control first before going for full denuclearization. And who knows which strategy will ultimately win out?

KING: OK. NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Seoul. Thanks.

KUHN: You're welcome.


KING: For the first time in more than two centuries, people didn't go to midnight Christmas Mass in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last night.

GREENE: Right. Let's remember - back in April, that awful fire severely damaged the iconic 856-year-old cathedral. It'll almost certainly take years to make all the necessary repairs. And so last night, worshippers in the French capital gathered in a different church.

KING: Vivienne Walt is a correspondent for Time Magazine, and she went to that other midnight service. She's in Paris via Skype.

Hi, Vivienne.


KING: So I know that you were talking to people in the cathedral. And while you were there, you talked to a man named Caesar Jurgis (ph).

CAESAR JURGIS: It's a regular Christmas Mass, but it's still here. Yeah. It's hope. It's hope because it's going to be rebuilt. I mean, speaking of Notre Dame, it's going to be better than it was.

KING: It's going to be better than it was. He sounds so hopeful. Do other people feel that way?

WALT: I think people are a little bit wary. He is on the optimistic side of the spectrum. I think for a lot of Parisians, they want some - they want to see some evidence that things are moving. It's been, you know, pretty much more than eight months at this point. There's been a lot of political wrangling over who actually has command of the reconstruction project, what it's going to look like. They are suddenly flooded with donations. They've raised nearly a billion dollars at this point...

KING: Wow.

WALT: ...To do the reconstruction. But really, very, very little has happened. The entire area is still cordoned off. And it's really a kind of psychological wound bang in the middle of Paris.

KING: A psychological wound. So that makes me wonder - at the other service, the one you went to, what was the atmosphere like there?

WALT: Well, for anybody who's been to midnight Mass in Notre Dame, it was really startlingly different. Usually, Notre Dame is just filled with thousands of people. It's a vast interior, and people just, you know, pour in from all over Paris. There's incense and, you know, several different choirs. And it's really quite an experience.

This is a small, exquisite little royal chapel. There must have been maybe 300 people there. It is a very, very old chapel right next to the Louvre. And one very comforting thing, I think, for a lot of people was that Notre Dame's most famous statue - sculpture of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, which actually survived the fire completely intact, has been moved to that chapel and was spot-lit right there next to the priest.

So there was actually a kind of touch of Notre Dame. There was a stripped-down version of the Notre Dame choir that sang beautifully. And so there were touches of Notre Dame, but it certainly was not Notre Dame.

KING: Time magazine's foreign correspondent Vivienne Walt from Paris. Thanks so much.

WALT: You're welcome.


KING: Democrats running for president really want to win over Hispanic voters.

GREENE: Right, and this is no surprise. Pew Research says they will be the biggest minority group voting in the 2020 election. Yesterday, Joe Biden announced he has the endorsement of California Congressman Tony Cardenas. He's a key member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and he spoke with NPR about the Latino vote in 2020.

TONY CARDENAS: It's going to be the largest number but the most informed and the most aggressive vote for the Latino community, as they have a lot to protect and a lot to defend.

KING: NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid is on the line. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: OK. So Joe Biden got this endorsement from Congressman Tony Cardenas. How big a deal is this?

KHALID: You know, when it comes to high-level political endorsements in the Latino community, former Vice President Biden is certainly the leader. He has the most endorsements from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. But Noel, I would say, broadly, we have not seen endorsements as any indicator of public opinion this election cycle. You know, California Senator Kamala Harris had the second-highest number of endorsements from Congress. And you know, she's since dropped out of the presidential race.

That being said, Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, has perhaps one of the most key endorsements in the Latino community, the support of New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And so I do want to point that out.

KING: OK. So that is a big deal. Now, I know you've been reporting on Bernie Sanders and how Latinos really seem to be gravitating toward him. Why is that? What are they telling you?

KHALID: So I was in Nevada recently, and voters there told me that they really appreciated his authenticity. His campaign, they felt, was really running a culturally relevant campaign. But you know, on this point of who Bernie Sanders is and him feeling authentic, I heard from a lot of people that they feel like they just know what they're getting with him. There was one young guy I met, Sean Navarro (ph), who told me in the Latinx community, he's kind of like your grandpa or your uncle - your tio, he said - that he's kind of stern, maybe a little grumpy. But you know he's looking out for you.

And I should point out, you know, the campaign has also made a very conscious effort to reach out to the Latino community. They told me they have over a hundred Latino staffers on the campaign across the country, and they feel like that cultural relevancy helps them. But you know, Latinos are also a very young population, and Bernie Sanders has consistently done well with young voters across racial and ethnic groups.

KING: Yes. And Biden tends to do well with older Latinos. What are the issues with older people in general, actually? What are the issues that each of these two men is focusing on to get the support of the community?

KHALID: You know, broadly, I think it comes down to what we see from their campaigns in general. And that is that Bernie Sanders talks a lot about sweeping changes, and Biden takes a more incremental approach. We talk about, you know, sweeping changes. I think we see this a lot in immigration. Sanders, for example, talks about a lot of changes through executive action. For instance, he's called for a moratorium on all deportations.

KING: Apart from Nevada where you were, where else might Latino voters play a key role?

KHALID: OK. So quickly, two key states, Texas and California - they vote early this year. They vote on Super Tuesday, and both are states where the Latino population is around 40%.

KING: Wow.

KHALID: That will be key.

KING: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks so much, Asma.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Vivienne Walt