Dems pledge to block sanctions relief if North Korea deal doesn’t meet key principles
Top Democrats on Monday staked out their ground for a nuclear deal with North Korea, vowing to push back on any sanctions relief if an agreement does not meet the five pillars they laid out.
“We’re all hoping the president will succeed and rooting for peace,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on a conference call. “If he tries to reach a deal with Kim Jong Un just for the sake of reaching a deal, and the agreement fails to live up the principles we’ve laid out, then he’ll have been bested at the negotiating table yet again.”
The Democrats’ demands, which they also laid out in a letter to President Trump, come as the president is preparing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a historic summit aimed at getting Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.
Trump announced Friday the meeting is happening June 12 in Singapore as originally planned, despite canceling it a week prior.
The decision to move ahead with the summit came after a week of frenzied diplomacy topped off with a top North Korean official visiting the White House to deliver Trump a letter from Kim.
Though U.S. officials have said progress was made at those meetings, the United States and North Korea appear to continue to disagree on what denuclearization actually means.
Asked Friday about North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons all at once, Trump said, “I think they want to do that,” but also acknowledged his summit “will be a beginning” of a process.
Schumer on Monday said Trump needs to be willing to walk away from the table and be willing to take the time to craft a good deal.
Democrats defined a good deal as meeting five pillars: the dismantlement or relinquishing of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; the end to uranium and plutonium enrichment and the dismantlement of nuclear infrastructure; the continued suspension of ballistic missile tests; the ability to conduct inspections for nuclear and missile activity anytime anywhere in North Korea, as well as the ability to snap back sanctions if illicit activity is found; and the assurance that the deal would be permanent.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said that while the weapons program is a priority, an ideal agreement would also cover North Korea’s human rights abuses.
“There’s no sustainable long-term solution for peace, security and stability if we ignore the Kim regime’s deplorable human rights record,” he said on the conference call.
It’s unclear how much power Democrats, and lawmakers at large, will have to constrain Trump from entering into an agreement they disagree with.
Some administration officials have indicated an agreement could be a treaty, meaning the Senate would have to ratify it.
If the agreement is not a treaty, Congress could act as it did with the Iran nuclear deal. In that case, it passed separate legislation that gave lawmakers an ability to block the deal and snap back sanctions.
“The president has a lot of flexibility when it comes to sanctions, but it is always possible for Congress to pass mandatory or to pass laws to prevent the president from being able to use his waiver authority,” Schumer said. “What we are saying here is that we need to see these principles met or Congress will exercise its role, and we believe that it will be both Democrats and Republicans who will want to do that.”
Asked whether legislation similar to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act is on the table, Schumer indicated it depends on how negotiations with North Korea proceed.
“If we think that the president is veering off course, we would not hesitate to move,” Schumer said, “but let’s see where he’s headed.”