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GOP offers measured praise after summit

The Washington Post
June 12. 2018 8:36PM
President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore in this picture released Tuesday by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. (KCNA via REUTERS)

WASHINGTON — Leading Republicans in Congress offered measured praise Tuesday of President Donald Trump’s high-profile summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but they emphasized the difficult road that remains to denuclearization and cautioned that the rogue regime had broken promises in the past.

Many Democrats, meanwhile, were sharply critical of Trump’s triumphant claims of a breakthrough in Singapore, arguing that he was placing too much trust in a notorious dictator and had achieved few tangible results at what one called “a reality show summit.”

Speaking on the Senate floor just a few hours after Trump departed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised what he called “an historic first step in negotiations.”

“The next steps in negotiations will test whether we can get to a verifiable deal which enhances our relationship with Northeast Asia and our allies,” McConnell said. “The challenge will take a great deal of hard work.”

What lies ahead is “an arduous process,” he added.

Earlier Tuesday morning, Trump touted the “very special bond” he said he had forged with Kim and said he was heartened that North Korea had “reaffirmed” its commitment to denuclearization, while providing few specifics about how Kim would back up his promise.

Trump also announced that he will order an end to regular “war games” that the United States conducts with ally South Korea, a reference to annual joint military exercises that are an irritant to North Korea. (See related story Page B1)

In a statement, Rep. Edward Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was “glad the President is seeking peace through diplomacy.”

But Royce, who is retiring from Congress, said that Kim had “gained much” from Trump’s pledge to suspend military drills and that he was eager to hear more specifics about the commitments North Korea had made toward denuclearization.

Royce also said it is important for the United States to continue to press China and others to impose economic sanctions until the process is complete.

“Kim Jong-un should not receive a dime of relief until he fully and verifiably denuclearizes,” Royce said.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who had long called for direct dialogue between the United States and North Korea, said he was “skeptical but hopeful” that negotiations started by Trump can lead to North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons.

In a statement, Portman cautioned that in the past “North Korea has used talks to stall while continuing its nuclear and missile programs, and empty promises cannot buy any more time.”

And Portman, who sought to ensure the release of the late Otto Warmbier from a North Korea labor camp last year, called that episode “a constant reminder to me about the evil nature of this regime.”

In a similar vein, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, on Twitter offered “a reminder of who we are dealing with.” Cornyn attached to his tweet a copy of a New York Times article headlined “Atrocities Under Kim Jong-un: Indoctrination, Prison Gulags, Executions.”

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in a series of tweets that Trump “deserves praise” for abandoning past policies of “strategic patience.” But he also cautioned that the summit “must be followed by multiple meetings to test North Korea’s promises of denuclearization, which they have made in the past and then repeatedly violated.”

Several Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that it will be important for Trump to come to Congress to get approval of an eventual deal with North Korea.

“I’m hopeful,” Graham said on NBC’s “Today” show. “I think (Trump) has convinced Kim Jong-un that he’s better off giving up his nuclear weapons than he is keeping them.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., also emphasized the need for congressional approval, citing former President Barack Obama’s decision not to come to Congress with the Iran nuclear deal.

“One of the many criticisms of the Iran deal was that President Obama never brought it to the Congress and that it wasn’t a formal treaty,” Scalise said at an event hosted by Politico.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a terse statement that he was glad that Trump and Kim were able to meet, but added: “It is difficult to determine what of concrete nature has occurred.”

Corker, who is retiring, said he looked forward to having Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appear before his committee to elaborate on what transpired.

Criticism from Democrats

Democrats were far more direct in their criticism.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she believed Trump had handed Kim “concessions in exchange for vague promises that do not approach a clear and comprehensive pathway to denuclearization and nonproliferation.”

“In his haste to reach an agreement, President Trump elevated North Korea to the level of the United States while preserving the regime’s status quo,” she said in a statement, adding: “The millions of families currently living in fear of nuclear weapons in the region deserve strong and smart leadership built on diplomacy and engagement with our regional partners and allies.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also accused Trump of falling short in Singapore, saying in a floor speech that “it’s imperative that we actually get action here, not just photo ops.”

Schumer said that previous negotiations with North Korea had yielded the same goal of denuclearization, arguing that two prior attempts — in 1994 and 2005 — “were in fact much more rigorous than the initial communique issued by President Trump and Chairman Kim.”

“This communique lists denuclearization as a far-off goal, but includes no details about a pathway to achieving it,” Schumer said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday that he was concerned that Trump appeared to be cozying up to a murderous dictator under uncertain circumstances just days after spurning America’s closest allies at the G-7 conference in Canada.

“The effort is an important effort, but it is troubling to say the least that the effort is being pursued in such an episodic and non-thoughtful way,” Hoyer said.

In a tweet, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., derided Trump for what he called “photo op diplomacy,” saying on Twitter he was quick to sell out American values and integrity for nothing in return.”


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