(WASHINGTON) — On the heels of a historic meeting between President Trump and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, top Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill remain skeptical that a peace agreement can ever be reached with the brutal dictator.
Republicans are cautiously optimistic that a denuclearization treaty can be reached, but are warning Trump that Kim Jong Un is not to be trusted.
Democrats say the president has given legitimacy to a hostile regime in a meeting that mostly amounted to nothing but significant concessions to North Korea without any meaningful commitments in return.
The two senators who perhaps understand what is at stake the most: Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the chair and ranking member of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I read the statement and it’s difficult for me to see if something was actually agreed to or not,” Corker said. He called the agreement between Trump and Kim Jong Un nothing more than a “few sentences on a sheet of paper” that were “very aspirational.”
“I don’t think we know enough to challenge or celebrate,” Corker went on.
Menendez’s assessment of the agreement was a bit more blunt.
“I have to be honest with you. This is the weakest statement that I have ever seen come out of any engagement with North Korea, much less at the highest ranking of the president of the United States meeting with Kim Jong Un. It’s amazing,” Menendez said.
Democrats have blasted the summit as nothing but a photo op that played directly into Kim Jong Un’s hands.
“This seems to me to be more of a reality TV photo op handshake summit than a summit with a real strategy behind it,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told reporters.
The worry among most Democrats is that the meeting has further legitimized Kim Jong Un’s brutal regime, one that is fraught with egregious human rights violations and atrocities.
“It is worrisome, very worrisome that this joint statement is so imprecise. What the US has gained is vague and unverifiable at best. What North Korea has gained is tangible and lasting. We’ve legitimized a brutal dictator who’s starved his own people,” the Senate’s top Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.
In a statement, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., slammed Trump for his apparent display of affection towards the North Korean leader.
“I was appalled that President Trump spoke so positively, even fondly, of a brutal, oppressive tyrant. He elevated Kim to legitimacy on the world stage, when he deserves condemnation as a human rights pariah,” Blumemthal said.
The friendly language seemingly rubbed GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida the wrong way, too.
“One more thing about KJU. While I know @potus is trying to butter him up to get a good deal, #KJU is NOT a talented guy. He inherited the family business from his dad & grandfather. He is a total weirdo who would not be elected assistant dog catcher in any democracy,” Rubio said in a tweet.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in a statement the ramifications of meeting with Kim Jong Un will have “serious negative consequences for American national security,” and it exposed Trump as an “unprepared, weak negotiator.”
But many Republicans have come to the president’s defense, and have offered a measured response to Trump for accomplishing what no other president in recent history has been able to achieve.
And, they are cautiously optimistic that North Korea will eventually denuclearize.
“There’s certainly nothing in the history of Kim Jong Un or his father or his grandfather that would demonstrate we should be optimistic, but having said, that you’ve got to try,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said.
Republican senators have suggested that the lack of detail in the agreement was not unexpected, and that the summit was mainly a “first step” in a series of negotiations.
“At the end of the day, Kim Jong Un’s going to have to make a decision. Does he believe he’s safer and more prosperous without nuclear weapons than he is with them? And that depends on how he views Trump,” GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters.
But there is wide spread agreement among both Republicans and Democrats that the US must maintain its pressure campaign on North Korea until the denuclearization demands are met and verified.
And that means ending the so-called “war games” or military exercises with South Korea, as Trump suggested, is not an option that should be considered in the immediate future.
“I think sometimes the president has a tendency to stand up and say things that haven’t been vetted, and sometimes those things are walked back after he’s had conversations with people that are relevant to what he said,” Corker said.
Corker said going forward, the U.S. should leave the rest of the negotiating to the “professionals” who truly understand what is at stake.
“The work now will be probably done by the professionals who deal with these issues on a daily basis,” Corker said.
Corker said he is hopeful that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will debrief senators in the coming weeks so they can find out what really went on behind closed doors.
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