President Trump shakes hands with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief, after their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 1, 2018. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Top senators demand full denuclearization in any deal with N. Korea

The Senate’s top Democrats insisted in a letter to President Trump on Monday that any deal with North Korea must completely dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs permanently — and that the White House must loop Congress in on its plans before negotiations ­begin.

The minority leader and several ranking Democrats issued a list of conditions in anticipation of the expected June 12 summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, pressing the president to maintain a tough and unsparing stance with the North Korean leader and with his ally China to ensure that the talks achieve “full, complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea” — and nothing less.

“Any deal that explicitly or implicitly gives North Korea sanctions relief for anything other than the verifiable performance of its obligations to dismantle its nuclear and missile arsenal is a bad deal,” the senators wrote.

Congressional Democrats have given their cautious blessing to the talks, while expressing deep concerns that Trump may be too keen on reaching a deal to make certain that it achieves the results the United States wants.

“We want to make sure the president’s desire for a deal with North Korea doesn’t saddle the United States, [South] Korea and Japan with a bad deal,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday. “The president needs to be willing to walk away from the table if there isn’t a deal to be had.”

The Democrats say that any agreement must continue North Korea’s “current ballistic missile tests suspension, including any space launch,” the full “dismantlement of ballistic missiles and a prohibition on all ballistic missile development,” and a guarantee “that no ballistic missiles and associated technology are proliferated or exported.”

They also insist that North ­Korea commit to “robust compliance inspections” that include “ ‘anywhere, anytime’ inspections” of declared and non-
declared “suspicious sites.” Any deal should include “snapback sanctions” to guarantee that the penalties on North Korea are automatic for violations, they said.

“Getting a deal with North Korea is actually the easy part,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday, noting that North Korea had signed memorandums with the United States in the past that then fell apart. “Getting a good agreement that works and is sustainable . . . is the hard part.”

Democrats said Monday that the stakes of the potential talks with North Korea are far higher than those with Iran, which “did not have nuclear weapons or a functional ICBM,” Schumer noted, referring to an intercontinental ballistic missile. “North Korea has both,” he said.

Schumer also warned that Democrats would be watching the progress of negotiations to see that their principles are met, adding that “if we think that the president is veering off course, we would not hesitate to move” to increase mandatory sanctions against North Korea or otherwise make it impossible for the president to use his waiver authority.” Schumer suggested that Republicans would join Democrats in any effort to restrain the president if it appears he is moving too swiftly toward a bad deal.

Because Congress has already passed certain mandatory sanctions against North Korea, lawmakers would probably have to take some action to waive them before the United States could fully participate in an accord in which North Korea made a commitment to fully denuclearize. Menendez stressed that Congress would take such steps only if Pyongyang were clearly “in the midst of compliance” with a strict, acceptable deal.

That deal could be a long way off. Though Trump initially suggested that the goal of the June 12 talks was denuclearization, he has since scaled that back, describing the upcoming meeting as more of a “get-to-know-you kind of a situation” and the start of “a process.”