Pompeo insisted, “Not all of that work appeared in the final document. But lots of other places where there were understandings reached, we couldn’t reduce them to writing.” Really? Why not?
North Korea’s state-controlled media provided its version of events Wednesday, saying that Trump had promised to end joint military exercises with South Korea and to eventually lift sanctions. It said that he had also agreed to “step by step” denuclearization, rather than the rapid and irreversible process the administration said it was demanding.
Ending joint military exercises was not a concession the Trump team had voiced previously. Now that Trump gave it away, Pompeo says the exercises won’t take place if North Korea is negotiating in good faith. Really? That’s the oldest trick in the book — stall and when the United States says it will resume exercises, cry foul and blame the United States for the blowup. We are, quite frankly, giving away leverage before future negotiations.
North Korea has zero incentive to give up anything anytime soon. It has gotten legitimacy, it has gotten rid of the military exercises, and it has gotten Trump to purr like a kitten. (There is no nuclear threat from North Korea anymore, he announces, raising the question then as to why any more negotiations are needed.) This has become a caricature of the Iran negotiations with a sometimes prickly Secretary of State John F. Kerry insisting — wrongly, it turned out — that he was getting everything he wanted.
Congress has a role to play here, just as Republicans insisted during the Iran deal. The House and Senate foreign relations committees need to summon Pompeo to Capitol Hill to grill him. They can start with these questions:
- Why was CVID as a complete phrase not in the deal?
- Did North Korea object to CVID? If so, why did we relent?
- Why did we present the repressive, barbaric ruler as a regular, even praiseworthy leader? Have we given up on human rights?
- If we are negotiating for two years, are we holding off on new sanctions? Isn’t that what North Korea wants?
- Is China loosening sanctions? Is that acceptable?
- Did North Korea destroy that testing site?
Some of these questions need to be posed in closed session, but they still must be asked and answered. If lawmakers are kept in the dark or suspect Trump is caving, they can pass new sanctions over his veto threat. Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced an amendment on Wednesday to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act that would “help prevent the president from making a rash decision about troop reductions on the Korean Peninsula that would harm our national security.” In a written statement, Murphy said, “I’m freaked out that the president will order troops out of South Korea only for North Korea to, once again, break their word.” He added, “I’m all for bringing troops home when North Korea no longer poses an existential threat to our friends, but that day is a long time from now – and Congress needs to have a say.”
Congress should take the same approach with military exercises — if they are to be halted, the administration must report to Congress on the progress of the talks and on the security and diplomatic consequences of suspending exercises. Congress should also pass a resolution indicating its standards for confirming a North Korea deal. The administration is acting like irresponsible, giddy schoolboys. Ironically, it is Congress who must be the adults in the room.