Lawmakers call for military-to-military communications with North Korea

Lawmakers call for military-to-military communications with North Korea
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More than 30 lawmakers are calling on President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE to reestablish military-to-military communications with North Korea.

“The U.S. should do all in its power to avoid misunderstandings that could escalate to a greater conflict, including nuclear war,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Trump on Thursday.

“Given your recent comments that are supportive of dialogue with North Korea, and the potential that you have established a relationship with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, we strongly urge you to prioritize this form of communication as the first step that our two governments could take towards averting a conflict.”


All but one of the letter’s 33 signatories are Democrats. Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic infighting threatens 2020 unity Heavy loss by female candidate in Republican NC runoff sparks shock Greg Murphy wins GOP primary runoff for North Carolina House seat MORE (R-N.C.), often an outlier in his party, was the one Republican.

The letter was organized by Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaKing incites furor with abortion, rape and incest remarks San Jose mayor proposes mandatory liability insurance for gun owners Democrats give cold shoulder to Warren wealth tax MORE (D-Calif.), who spoke with reporters Thursday about his hopes for reestablishing military-to-military communications and, ultimately, a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

“This should not be controversial,” Khanna said of intermilitary communications. “This is not talking about some negotiation or some ultimate reconciliation. All this is saying is that our military should be in touch with their military to avoid the escalation of war because of some mistake. … It’s so important that when we’re engaged in these war games, when we’ve got our pilots flying bombers near their border, when you have a regime that’s paranoid about America attacking them we at least have military-to-military communication.”

In the letter, the lawmakers propose using the Military Armistice Commission, which was created when the Korean War armistice was signed, to conduct the communication. If North Korea does not agree to that, they add, communications could be facilitated by a third-party country.

Asked for elaboration on what form the communication should take and what type of information he expects would be shared, Khanna said he would leave specifics up to the Pentagon.

The lawmakers also expressed support for the talks between North and South Korea about the former's participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics, which are being held next month in South Korea. On Wednesday, the two sides announced they would march together in the opening ceremony and field a joint women’s ice hockey team.

Whether the Olympics talks lead to broader talks about denuclearization depends on whether the United States supports South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts, Khanna said.

“I believe it’s an opening that all depends on American leadership,” Khanna said. “If North Korea really believed the United States was going to talk about the joint [U.S.-South Korea] military exercises and the war games and were willing to honor negotiations or conversations without preconditions, they would do so. We have not been willing to take that stance.”

He added he believes North Korea would want to continue talks because it’s “well aware, in my view, the United States is developing technology that actually would make their nuclear threat much less significant,” referring to advances in missile defense.

Khanna also outlined Thursday two other steps he would like to see to decrease tensions with North Korea. First, he reintroduced a bill explicitly stating that the president cannot strike North Korea without congressional authorization.

Finally, he called for a negotiated solution to the crisis and for Trump to send a bipartisan team to negotiate with North Korea.

“There’s a distinction between the broader thing I’m asking for, which is full negotiations, full talks without preconditions, and the military-to-military communication,” he said. “I think there’s a much higher probability of military-to-military communication getting done and even the neo-cons, I’ve seen no reason they wouldn’t at least have the military-to-military communication like we had with the Soviet Union.”