Possible North Korea summit raises anxiety in Washington

Possible North Korea summit raises anxiety in Washington
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A potential North Korea summit that could feature the first face to face meeting between President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE and Kim Jong Un is raising the anxiety level in Washington, D.C.

Lawmakers on Sunday grappled with possible ramifications to the Trump administration's potential talks with Pyongyang over its nuclear program.

Several Republicans are urging the administration to approach the summit cautiously while keeping the pressure on North Korea to denuclearize, and some Democrats are raising concerns that a hollowed out State Department cannot back up Trump's promises of a diplomatic solution.

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Trump last week said he would meet face to face with Kim after a South Korean delegation met with the North Korean leader and said Pyongyang wants to begin discussions with the United States about halting nuclear tests. 

The summit announcement follows a year of tough rhetoric from Trump on North Korea, which the president vowed to destroy should the Asian nation provoke the United States.

CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUN condemns Iran military parade attack President strikes softer tone on North Korea at United Nations Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump returns to UN praising Kim | Iran in crosshairs later this week | US warns Russia on missile defense in Syria MORE described the United States as being in a strong negotiating position to denuclearize North Korea.

“This administration has its eyes wide open and the whole time this conversation takes place the pressure will continue to mount on North Korea,” Pompeo told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“There is no relief in sight until the president gets the objective that he has set forth consistently during his entire time in office.”

But some Republican lawmakers are expressing caution on North Korea amid the country’s past threats to the United States. A group of GOP senators last week in a letter to Trump called for the administration to keep pressure on Pyongyang as it evaluated future discussions. 

One of those senators, Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R-Wis.), on Sunday warned that the United States should “not be Charlie Brown to North Korea's Lucy.” 

“What we can't do is do what we did with Iran and let off the pressure and then just watch the behavior go in the wrong direction,” Johnson told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“So, again, it's just incredibly important to keep — I would ratchet up the sanctions against North Korea until they actually do, in a verifiable fashion, denuclearize.” 

Another Republican senator expressed skepticism that the Trump administration is near that goal.

“I don't think anybody really believes that North Korea is prepared to denuclearize. Now, maybe a freeze where they say, ‘All right. We are a nuclear power. Let's get some security guarantees,’ ” Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP opens door to holding Kavanaugh committee vote this week Police arrest 128 protesting Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill GOP launches counteroffensive on Kavanaugh MORE (R-Ariz.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

He added there are "dozens and dozens of meetings, high-level meetings," that need to happen before the summit.  

"The important thing is the diplomatic work that has to go in before such a meeting," he said. "A meeting like that would be kind of an afterthought after things are negotiated. Here it looks as if, you know, that's kind of the opening gambit. And that's a little worrisome."

Democrats raised concerns about whether Trump has the resources for that kind of complex, behind-the-scenes diplomacy due to a State Department that is short of senior staff after Trump's first year in office. 

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenCarbon tax could give liberals vast power to grow federal government Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her More Massachusetts Voters Prefer Deval Patrick for President than Elizabeth Warren MORE (D-Mass.) noted that the agency lacks an assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

“I am very worried that he's going to go into these negotiations and be taken advantage of," Warren told CNN’s “State of the Union" on Sunday, while adding she wants the president "to succeed" in negotiations.

Warren also argued in a separate appearance on Fox News Sunday that a meeting between Kim and a U.S. president is “the big prize” for North Korea because the talks legitimize the government and its nuclear program.

A former adviser to President Obama on Sunday also said the Trump administration needs more diplomats in this situation.

"They have no ambassador to Seoul. The person who was in charge of North Korean negotiations just left the State Department," Ben Rhodes told ABC's Jonathan Karl on "This Week."

"When you're in a negotiation as complex as a North Korean nuclear program, and a situation that is volatile as the Korean Peninsula, you need diplomats," he said.

But the Trump administration says the planned summit is the culmination of a diplomatic effort.

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: 0B more in Trump tariffs kick in | China calls off trade talks | CEO confidence slips over tariffs | GOP to move spending bill over Trump concerns | Behind the scenes look at how the GOP tax law passed How the Trump tax law passed: Breaking the gridlock  5 things to know about Trump's escalating trade war with China MORE argued during a morning show appearance that U.S. economic sanctions have brought North Korea to the table.

“So now we have a situation where the president is using diplomacy, but we’re not removing the maximum pressure campaign. That’s the big difference here,” Mnuchin told NBC’s Chuck Todd. 

“The sanctions are staying on, the defense posture is staying the same as it is, so the president is going to sit down and see if he can cut a deal," he continued.

Still, lawmakers overall appear more cautious in celebrating the meeting as a sign of change.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Colorado governor sets up federal PAC before potential 2020 campaign Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law MORE (R-Colo.), who pressed the Trump administration to increase pressure on Pyongyang ahead of last year’s inauguration, said Sunday that he would like to see more from North Korea before Trump and Kim meet.

“Well I'd like to see some concrete steps, more than just a cessation of testing because you can still do computer modeling,” he told CBS. 

The administration appears to be pushing ahead with the meeting, regardless of concerns on both sides of the aisle.

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions plagued the Trump administration’s first year in the White House, as Pyongyang conducted multiple missile tests in 2017.

In his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly last year, Trump said he would “totally destroy North Korea” if it threatened the United States. Meanwhile, the president has exchanged personal insults with Kim, whom he has called a "Rocket Man” on “a suicide mission.”

While administration officials on Sunday did not provide details on a meeting, the South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-Yong said last week that Trump agreed to meet with Kim by May.

Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah on Sunday said "nothing is being ruled out" in the planning, including the possibility of Kim coming to the White House.

"I have no announcement, it's a time and a place to be determined," Shah told ABC's Jonathan Karl on "This Week."