U.S. Democratic senators urge Trump to seek interim deal with N. Korea

December 19, 2019

 Eight senior U.S. Democratic senators have urged President Donald Trump to seek an interim deal with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program ahead of a year-end deadline imposed by Pyongyang.

In a letter to the president dated Wednesday, the senators — Charles Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mark Warner (D-VA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — also cautioned Trump against resuming the provocative rhetoric he used in 2017 during heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Schumer serves as the Senate minority leader, while Durbin is the Senate minority whip.

“As we approach the end of the year and the ‘deadline’ set by (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un to break the deadlock in the stalled denuclearization talks, we write to express our grave and growing concern that your efforts to advance the goals outlined at the Singapore summit of a ‘lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula’ and the ‘complete denuclearization of the peninsula’ appear to be stalled and on the brink of failure,” read the letter posted on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee website.

The Singapore summit was the first meeting between Trump and Kim in June last year.

“While we understand that significant gaps remain between the two sides — and that North Korea has yet to take sufficient steps to meet its stated commitment to diplomacy and denuclearization — we are disturbed that almost two years after the Singapore Summit your administration has yet to develop a workable diplomatic process to structure real, serious and sustainable negotiations with North Korea,” the letter continued.

The senators noted that North Korea has tested short-range ballistic missiles this year “without consequence” and conducted two presumed engine tests for an intercontinental ballistic missile this month.

They also argued that over the past three years North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities have advanced and continue to pose a threat to the U.S. and its allies.

“While time is short, and Special Representative Stephen Biegun is in the region this week, we reiterate our hope that you will execute a serious diplomatic plan before it is too late, which includes a sequenced process to verifiably freeze and roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs in conjunction with continued appropriate sanctions and other pressure,” the letter said, referring to Washington’s top nuclear negotiator who has been traveling through Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing this week.

The senators also called for a robust deterrence posture, strengthened alliances, intensified diplomatic engagement, and a deepening of inter-Korean dialogue that can “provide a pathway to full denuclearization and a durable peace agreement.”

“In our view, this should include a phased process to verifiably dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex and other nuclear facilities,” they said. “While such an interim agreement would of course only be a first step in a longer process, it would nonetheless be an important effort to create the sort of real and durable diplomatic process that is necessary to achieve the complete denuclearization of North Korea.”

Urging the president to take every necessary step to deepen the U.S. alliances with South Korea and Japan, the senators also sent a warning: “It would be a severe miscalculation to believe that a resumption of ‘fire and fury’ threats and other attempts at nuclear coercion against North Korea, which can increase the risk of a catastrophic war, can lead to better results than the negotiating table.”