Policy

Senators Skeptical of Kim’s Nuke Pledge As Trump Prepares for Summit

North Korean leader says he’s putting a freeze on nuclear and medium- and long-range missile testing

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., threw cold water on the notion President Donald Trump’s planned meeting with North Korea President Kim Jong Un would lead to serious concessions from the North. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators from both parties offered measured applause to President Donald Trump over the weekend after North Korea announced it would suspend nuclear and medium- and long-range missile tests ahead of Trump’s planned summit with its leader, Kim Jong Un.

The North’s promises to stem its nuclear weapons program “show that the president has put Kim Jong Un on the wrong foot for the first time,” Sen. Tom Cotton said Sunday on CBS's “Face the Nation.”

Kim’s ostensible willingness to make such concessions on his nuclear and missile programs to lay the foundation for a sit-down with Trump “shows that he realizes that time and momentum is on the side of the United States and our allies,” the Arkansas Republican added.

But Cotton and other Republican and Democratic senators remained dubious of North Korean intentions, saying Kim could easily reverse his decision to suspend his top military priority — nuclear and ballistic missiles proficiency.

“Obviously Kim Jong-Un has learned about public relations,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee said Sunday on ABC's “This Week.”

Corker added that people in the foreign policy community view Kim’s promises “with great caution and skepticism that’s been going on for 25 years.”

“This can be easily reversed,” Corker said of Kim’s promises and the recent thaw in relations between the two countries’ leaders that has in part laid the groundwork for a potential in-person meeting.

As for the substance of that meeting, Corker was adamant that the U.S. should not make any concessions to a North Korean leader who western experts consider a ruthless and repressive dictator with a reckless foreign policy.

“I don’t see us giving up anything,” Corker said. “I hope we will not.” 

Trump has surrounded himself mostly with foreign policy hawks, such as National Security Adviser John Bolton, who Corker said is a “great skeptic who will warn of any easing” the president might consider.

Democrats have also indicated they do not oppose the administration engaging North Korean leaders in talks on denuclearization and other national security matters.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein welcomes a meeting between Trump and Kim as an opportunity for the two presidents “to meet and hopefully establish the new perimeter of a relationship,” she said Sunday on CBS.

But the California Democrat harbored no illusions about Trump’s chances of striking an enforceable deal to permanently stem the North’s weapons program.

“The question is whether it lasts or not,” Feinstein said of any agreement the summit might produce. “And of course the reputation of the North Koreans has been that they don't necessarily keep their agreements.”

On Sunday, Trump initially defended his efforts in negotiations with North Korea by claiming the country had “agreed to denuclearization.” It has made no such statement.

But the president later tempered expectations and said, “We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea.”

“Maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t — only time will tell,” Trump tweeted.

It is highly unlikely North Korea will dismantle its nuclear and missile testing sites anytime soon, even with continued U.S.-led economic sanctions others have levied on the country.

The Kim family has long seen having a viable nuclear weapons arsenal as essential to securing its hold on power in the North.

“He views having deliverable nuclear weapons as his ticket to dying as an old man in his bed,” Corker said. “He saw what happened with [former Libyan Prime Minister Muammar] Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s a dead man now because he gave up his nuclear weapons. To think that somebody’s going to go in and charm [Kim] out of that is not realistic.”

“Is there some progress that could be made?” Corker asked. “I hope so. But that’s a big hurdle.”

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