CAPITOL HILL — U.S. senators of both parties endorsed a resolute American negotiating stance toward North Korea after last week’s summit in Vietnam between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly with no deal on Pyongyang’s denuclearization.
“The president is not going to make a deal until we have a concrete plan forward, on the table and agreed to before anything is signed,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch, an Idaho Republican, told reporters Tuesday.
“There is to be no normalization [of relations] without denuclearization,” Colorado Republican Cory Gardner said.
“I’m glad that he [Trump] walked away [from the summit],” Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut told VOA. “The North Koreans thought they could get something from the president directly that they couldn’t get from his representatives. That was an important impression to reject and debunk.”
Senators spoke after emerging from a classified briefing led by the State Department’s special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun. While declining to divulge specifics of the closed-door encounter, senators indicated they had a clearer understanding of the administration’s strategy for discussions with Pyongyang going forward.
“We will continue to impose maximum pressure on the North Korean regime,” said Gardner, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia. “The discussions will continue, but North Korea must come far closer than they are on concrete steps toward denuclearization before any movement is made by the United States.”
He added, “Kim Jong Un now knows that, unlike some of the mistakes the U.S. has made in the past as we have relieved sanctions and provided additional relief to North Korea, that that is not going to be accepted going forward by the U.S.”
Murphy told reporters: “Hopefully, this is the end of showy photo ops without any real strategy on how to get to something meaningful.”
“Hopefully, this brings the North Koreans back to the table, so that if there is a third summit, we don’t have the risk of the president misplaying his hand, that he’s there to put the finishing touches on an agreement that’s basically already written,” he added.
On Saturday, Trump insisted the summit was not a failure.
“I had very productive meetings with Chairman Kim Jong Un. Very productive. We get along. We’ve developed a good relationship, very good, and made great historic progress,” the president said in a speech to a gathering of conservative activists. “But I had to walk, because every once in a while you have to walk, because the deal wasn’t a deal that was acceptable to me.”
At the Senate, a partisan divide was evident on the likelihood of ultimate forging a pact with Pyongyang.
“The parties did not back away [in Hanoi] from the progress that’s been made,” Risch said. “Each party laid out the things that they want to happen, and there will be movement in that direction. It’s more a question of timing, I believe, than anything else.”
“They [Trump administration] closed some gaps [with North Korea], a long way to go,” South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham said. “They are pursuing the right goal with the right attitude.”
“I see what the strategy is. The odds of success on the strategy are not high,” Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia told reporters.
“My guess is that Kim is just playing for time. He loves these summits and he loves the legitimacy he gets from them, and he continues to build his nuclear program. But we don’t have a lot of other plays [options] right now, so I think we all have to get behind this one, no matter our deep reservations about the president’s ineptitude,” Murphy said.
Risch said he expects another Trump-Kim encounter in the future.
“These two people have a special relationship, and it is that special relationship that is moving this forward,” the committee chairman said. “There hasn’t been any meeting announced, but I would expect that would happen. Meetings are continuing right now, and I expect that when they get to a stage where they think that it would be helpful for the parties to engage at the top level, they will do so.”
Added Graham, “Everybody in the world better hope this turns out well. Because if it doesn’t, we’re going to have a major problem on our hands.”