WASHINGTON — Republican and Democratic leaders aren’t quite celebrating President Donald Trump’s historic meeting Tuesday with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, saying the initial agreement they struck won’t mean much unless the North completely denuclearizes.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the meeting a “major first step,” in U.S.-North Korea relations, but not a decisive one if North Korea does not follow through.
“The next steps in negotiations will test whether we can get to a verifiable deal,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. He added, “We and our allies must be prepared to restore the policy of maximum pressure.”
That was echoed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said, “There is only one acceptable final outcome: complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.”
Others were just puzzled by the vagueness of the leaders’ initial agreement.
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“It is difficult to determine what of concrete nature has occurred,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
Democrats were openly skeptical, saying Trump had already given up some American leverage by committing to halting U.S. military exercises with treaty ally South Korea.
“President Trump has granted a brutal and repressive dictatorship the international legitimacy it has long craved,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said. He pointed out that the Trump-Kim agreement does not define what denuclearization would mean. If nothing else happens, Schumer said the meeting amounts to “purely a reality show summit.”
The first U.S. responses to the dramatic meeting came as Trump and Kim headed home from Singapore. But even as he toasted the historic meeting, Trump faced questions about what he actually won and whether he gave away too much.
Not included in the agreement, for example, was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s language that the ultimate goal was the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” And Kim offered no solid promises to abandon his hard-won nuclear arsenal any time soon.
Especially for Republicans, Trump’s meeting with Kim seemed complicated given the history of North Korea’s intransience and distressing human rights record. Trump has seemed largely unconcerned about celebrating an authoritarian leader suspected of ordering the public assassination of his half brother with a nerve agent, executing his uncle by firing squad and killing U.S. college student Otto Warmbier.
Warmbier, said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is “a constant reminder to me about the evil nature of this regime.”
“I remain skeptical but hopeful that this new dialogue can translate into meaningful progress,” Portman said in a statement. “I strongly believe that the president’s maximum pressure campaign must remain in place until North Korea truly changes course and ends its dangerous nuclear weapons program.”
At least one Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took a harsher stance.
“While I know @potus is trying to butter him up to get a good deal, #KJU is NOT a talented guy,” Rubio tweeted. “He inherited the family business from his dad & grandfather. He is a total weirdo who would not be elected assistant dog catcher in any democracy.”