RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There were protests yesterday in Seoul, South Korea, a protest that disrupted a visit by North Korean officials.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
MARTIN: The protesters told NPR they are skeptical that these new plans for uniting the two Korean teams at the next month's Winter Olympics will ease tensions over the North's nuclear program. Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth shares that skepticism. I spoke with her shortly after she returned from a visit to Japan and South Korea.
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: There's no illusions among our allies and our own military leaders that the North Koreans are not continuing to pursue to refine their nuclear capabilities even as they participate in the Olympics.
MARTIN: We spoke with the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, just recently on this program. And he argued that President Trump's strategy on North Korea, this strongman approach, might eventually end up breaking this long stalemate. Let's listen to this clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
RYAN CROCKER: It may just be that the difference in tone that President Trump has existed, it may do something down the line there.
MARTIN: What do you make of that?
DUCKWORTH: Well, the problem is we don't know if the difference that he makes is going to be good or bad. Frankly, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, is facing a major economic crisis at home and he's telling his own people, yes, you're going to be starving, no, you're not getting the, you know, medicines and the food that you need, but it's important for us to put all our money in this nuclear program because the rest of the world and especially America is out to get us. And we have in Donald Trump someone who actually provides him with the tweets and the actual clips of him saying these things.
He might as well be working for the North Korean propaganda machine.
MARTIN: So at the same time, the Trump administration will argue that what has happened in the past, this tactic of strategic patience as it was called when it comes to North Korea, that that has not yielded results over decades. So if this isn't going to work, what will?
DUCKWORTH: Well, when I talk to the experts on the ground, both in Japan and in Korea, they said two things in particular. First and foremost, that we must maintain a strong military defense and that there can be no gap between the United States and Korea and the United States and Japan when it comes to a unified defense and then we have to invest those resources. The other thing that they're saying is that the sanctions, the new sanctions that have just been imposed by the United Nations, are actually starting to work.
And they think that that is in fact one of the reasons why North Korea came back to the table and are sending Olympians.
MARTIN: Lastly, I understand you were able to talk to some defectors. What did you take away from those conversations as to what life is like in North Korea right now?
DUCKWORTH: You know, I talked to a gentleman who is spending his time now that he's in freedom trying to rescue human trafficking victims because the Chinese are accepting North Korean slave labor. And in fact, many North Korean women are being sold into China. Most people don't realize that slave labor is one of the biggest exports out of North Korea and a major source of revenue for them. And I think this is where additional sanctions, additional diplomacy with China and Russia will yield some results.
MARTIN: Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. We've been talking about her recent trip to South Korea and her visit to the Demilitarized Zone. Thank you so much for making the time, Senator.
DUCKWORTH: Thanks for having me on, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.