This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A group of Democratic U.S. Senators Thursday delivered a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to reevaluate his diplomatic approach toward North Korea in light of a spate of missile tests that Washington has played down.
The letter, signed by eight senators including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, urged the president to recognize that Pyongyang’s recent ballistic missile tests were in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and are done with the aim of advancing the North’s nuclear capabilities.
The senators called on the president to request from the United Nations “enforcement actions” against North Korea for not adhering to the resolutions.
Following a weapons test on Aug 2, the third over an eight day period, he said he had “no problem,” with the tests because they were only short-range missiles.
The senators’ disagreed with this sentiment in their letter.
“While these tests did not directly threaten the United States, they are a clear threat to our treaty allies in the Republic of Korea and Japan, and they have allowed North Korea to continue to develop significant new ballistic missile technology alongside its still unconstrained nuclear weapons programs,” the senators wrote.
“Your administration has downplayed the significance of these tests and suggested that there is no rush to reach an agreement that verifiably freezes and reverses North Korea’s nuclear and missile development,” they said.
“Accepting North Korean ballistic missile tests represents, in our view, a significant step backwards in the negotiations, especially as you yourself have previously asserted that North Korea halting all ballistic missile tests and nuclear tests was a sign of your administration’s success.”
Trump has so far held three meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including one at the Joint Security Area within the DMZ on the Korean peninsula, but North Korea’s denuclearization remains elusive.
The administration, however, maintained that the president’s North Korea strategy has produced positive outcomes.
Speaking to Pete Mundo of KCMO Talk Radio Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the building of a coalition in support of North Korean denuclearization was a triumph that led to meaningful engagement.
“We got the whole world to join in the toughest sanctions in history. And then President Trump agreed to meet with Chairman Kim. He’s now done so three times. It’s been important, because Chairman Kim has made commitments,” said Pompeo.
When asked whether recent North Korean actions indicated that they were still committed to negotiations, Pompeo replied, “We think they’re still committed. We think they’re still – intend to head down the diplomatic path, and we’re doing everything we can to encourage that, because we think it’s the right outcome for the world.”
“Those nuclear weapon systems that North Korea has been driving towards for decades now don’t provide the security that the North Koreans believe they do. In fact, what will provide them security is coming to a set of understandings with the United States and with the world to denuclearize,” Pompeo said.
The senators’ letter meanwhile cast doubts on the president’s strategy, particularly Trump’s apparent sympathy with North Korean objections to joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea.
Trump received what he described as “a beautiful letter” from Kim Jong Un in early August in which, according to Trump, Kim was “complaining about the ridiculous and expensive exercises.”
During a news conference, Trump said,“[Kim] wasn’t happy with the war games with the United States, and I’ve never liked it either. You know why? Because we’re paying for it; we should be reimbursed for it.”
U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who was not one of the signatories to the letter sent to Trump on Friday, was very direct in her criticism of the president and of Kim Jong Un.
In a tweet dated September 4, Hirono said, “While Kim Jong Un fires off missiles, our President is naively lulled into complacency by ‘really beautiful letters from this murderous tyrant. @realDonaldTrump ’s selfish actions continue to put our country and allies at risk.”
The letter to Trump more politely echoed Hirono’s sentiment.
“By calling into question the importance of our alliances and combined military exercises, you threaten to undermine strategic stability on the Korean Peninsula,” the senators said.
“Our alliance architecture is critical to safeguard U.S. national interests, and these exercises are a critical element of U.S. strategic engagement on the Peninsula, a guarantee of the freedom and prosperity of the people of the Republic of Korea, and a vital element of any coherent strategy to assure that the United States maintains leverage for successful denuclearization diplomacy,” the letter said.
The senators said the United States must “find a path to engagement with North Korea that minimizes and subsequently eliminates, its nuclear and ballistic missile threat while providing stability and preserving our strategic edge in the region.”
They concluded their letter by urging the president to change to a more pragmatic strategy for denuclearization, recommending that he push the United Nations for better enforcement of sanctions against the North while enhancing working-level negotiations, which they said were “necessary for diplomacy to succeed.