Dems after Asia trip: No 'illusions' about N. Korea's nuclear work amid Olympics talks

North Korea continues to work on its nuclear and missile programs as talks with South Korea about the Winter Olympics progress, a pair of Democratic lawmakers told reporters Wednesday after returning from a trip to Japan and South Korea.

“It is a positive sign that the North Koreans are participating in the Olympics, but also very clearly from our military leaders … they’re not refraining from continuing to move forward with their efforts to solve the final problems with being able to nuclearize an intercontinental ballistic missile that can hit the American homeland,” Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Top Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal Democrats brace for battle on Biden's .5 trillion spending plan MORE (D-Ill.) said.

“So while they’re doing this, they’re still continuing to pursue their nuclear development, and that was not something that anybody that we talked to had any illusions about, whether it was civilian or military," she added.


Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Final countdown: Senate inches toward last infrastructure vote Arizona state senator arrested on charges of sexual conduct with a minor House Democrats introduce bill restoring voting provision after SCOTUS ruling MORE (D-Ariz.) similarly called it "a good thing that they’re talking and that there is an effort by the South Koreans and North Koreans to work together at the Olympics."

"Whether it changes anything, we can’t tell right now. But without a doubt they’re going to continue to be, not doing overt testing such as ballistic missiles or nuclear testing, while this is going on, but they’re going to be doing anything they can to perfect their [intercontinental ballistic missiles] in the meantime," Gallego said.

North and South Korea had their first talks in two years last week, during which the North agreed to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month.

Talks to work out the details resumed this week, with the two sides announcing Wednesday that they would march together at the opening ceremony and field a joint women’s hockey team.

U.S. officials, lawmakers and experts have welcomed the talks, but have also expressed skepticism that the détente will last beyond the Olympics.

“I think it is a positive indicator,” Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisFormer Defense Secretary Mattis testifies in Theranos CEO trial 20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan MORE said Monday of the talks. “We just don't know where or how far it goes. Does it have traction? Will it go a long ways or will it go no further than this? I don't know.”

Duckworth and Gallego returned Tuesday from a trip to Seoul, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea and Japan. During the trip, they met with U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials including the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense and Foreign Affairs ministers from Japan and South Korea.

Both lawmakers have been outspoken about President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE’s handling of the nuclear crisis, saying his rhetoric has worsened the situation and questioning whether he understands the toll a strike on North Korea would take.

On Wednesday, both reiterated their warnings that even a so-called limited strike would results in thousands of deaths.

“Everyone that we spoke to said that there’s no such thing as a limited strike,” Duckworth said. “Even if you don’t use nuclear weapons, there are literally dug-in artillery and missile sites on the other side of that DMZ that will begin with, in the initial hours of any type of response from North Korea, a hundred thousand dead. And after that, tens of thousand per day for weeks and months to come.”

Duckworth also quoted what she said Mattis told the Democratic caucus last week when he visited party lunches, saying she heard similar sentiments throughout the trip: “The defense effort and the defense alliance is to hold the peace for one more day so the diplomats can do their job and get another day.”

Gallego, meanwhile, was skeptical that Trump will take action after accusing Russia of helping North Korea evade sanctions in an interview Wednesday.

“If the president actually is serious about cracking down on Russia, then he should actually fully implement the sanctions regime that we voted on a couple months ago,” he said. “So it’s nice that he’s saying it, but if he actually wants to be tough, then be tough and actually implement the regime.”