The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

On North Korea, it’s time for Congress to step up

Getty Images

Diplomatic engagement is the only way to find a peaceful resolution to the North Korea problem, and the first steps of diplomacy at the Singapore summit have reduced tensions on the peninsula. Less than a year ago, President Trump’s threats of “fire and fury” and North Korea’s relentless, illegal weapons tests raised the specter of war. Now, threats have given way to face-to-face diplomacy. That’s good news.

Yet we shouldn’t mistake lowered tensions and pageantry for concrete progress in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. And we shouldn’t forget that Kim Jong Un is a brutal dictator and heir to a regime that has broken its word again and again. We need to be clear-eyed about the challenges going forward, and Congress needs to exercise its authority to make sure any potential deal advances our interests and security.

{mosads}The president says he trusts Kim Jong Un. As history has shown us, that’s a mistake. The Kim Regime has committed to ending its nuclear program again and again over the last three decades and has consistently broken those commitments.

That’s why strict verification must be at the center of any potential deal. The initial agreement announced earlier this week leaves far too many questions unanswered.

We don’t even know if the United States and North Korea agree on what “complete denuclearization” means. Will it include short- and long-range ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction? What access will international inspectors have to ensure North Korea is complying? What will North Korea have to do to earn relief from international sanctions? And when will negotiations resume so that we can start getting answers to these questions?

We need to sweat the details, because the president has already given ground in exchange for very little.

Those arrayed flags and cordial handshakes are themselves something Pyongyang has long sought: a propaganda victory that provided Kim an equal footing with the president of the United States. That’s the reason past administrations of both parties have denied North Korean leaders the prestige of meeting with an American president. And beyond the agreement, the president’s announced end to U.S.-South Korea defensive military exercises has stunned our allies and our own military. In exchange, North Korea offered only the same stale promises it’s been repeating for decades.

I take these giveaways as warning signs. The president bragged that he didn’t need to prepare for the summit and that he’d size up Kim Jong Un in a minute. The missteps in Singapore suggest he needs to change his approach, and that Congress must assert its oversight role.

As a first step, we need to know exactly what North Korea has in its arsenal—its so-called “baseline.” That way, under a potential future agreement, it will be possible to accurately track whether North Korea is keeping its word and reducing its weapons capabilities. I introduced a bill that would require this sort of assessment and reporting.

But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Going forward, Congress must have total visibility into negotiations and a chance to weigh in before the administration commits our country to any agreement.

Lastly, even as the door to diplomacy remains open, we shouldn’t forget who Kim Jong Un is. Kim, like his father and grandfather, is a brutal dictator ruling with an iron fist over the most repressive regime on Earth. He has killed members of his family. He has ordered campaigns of mass murder and starvation. And—especially important as these discussions go forward—he has masterfully manipulated his rivals on the global stage.

The United States has a moral obligation to pursue any serious opportunity to build a real and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula. But during future talks, it’s essential that America’s negotiating position remains grounded in our values and honesty about our adversary. The president cannot allow flattery or obsequiousness — or talk of hotels and real estate — to distract from what Kim represents or to push the United States into more bad concessions.

Our country, our allies and the entire world will be watching. And while we hope for diplomacy to succeed, we must not accept a deal just for the sake of accepting a deal.

Engel is ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Tags denuclearization Donald Trump Korean Peninsula North Korea Summit

More Foreign Policy News

See All

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video