US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
Shortly before US President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12, the US Democratic Party threatened to oppose any easing of sanctions on North Korea unless five conditions are met, including the shutdown of all the North’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The fact that the Democratic Party has officially adopted a position as hardline as the Republican Party hints that the North Korean issue could become politicized leading up to the US midterm elections in November.
Top Democrats in the Senate – including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – sent a letter to Trump on June 4 outlining five principles for brokering a deal with North Korea and then held a teleconference with reporters. The five principles demanded by the Democrats are the shutdown and abandonment of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; halting the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium and plutonium and dismantling nuclear facilities; continuing the moratorium on ballistic missile testing; holding unannounced inspections of nuclear and missile activities and re-imposing sanctions if illegal activity is detected; and guaranteeing that the agreement is permanent.
These are largely the same as the demands made by US National Security Advisor John Bolton and other hardliners in the Trump administration. Schumer said that if Trump’s desire to reach a deal with Kim Jong-un leads to an agreement that does not satisfy the conditions laid out by the Democratic senators, his success will not go beyond the negotiating table.
Others are demanding that the North Korean human rights issue should also feature in any agreement that the US makes with the North. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that as long as the Kim regime’s deplorable human rights abuses were ignored, no solution to peace, security and stability could be sustainable in the long term.
Following Trump’s meeting at the White House on June 1 with North Korean Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and director of the WPK United Front Department, Trump waffled on the issue, telling reporters that he and Kim Yong-chol had not discussed the North Korean human rights issue but that the topic could come up in his summit with Kim Jong-un.
Politics website Politico observed that while Democratic lawmakers are openly discussing the requirements for a North Korea-US agreement, Republican lawmakers are showing more caution. If the summit does not lead to results, Republican Senator John Cornyn said, lawmakers would "have to deal with it [. . .] on the sanctions front [. . .] But right now, we’re cheering on the administration and hoping for a successful outcome."
Lifting sanctions on North Korea requires majority vote in US Senate
With the Democratic Party taking such a hard line, the Trump administration is expected to face considerable pressure as it pushes ahead with the challenging negotiations with North Korea. If the North takes steps to dismantle its nuclear program, the US at some point will have to lift sanctions. Doing so will mean revising the legislation in question, which requires the approval not of a simple majority (51 of 100 senators) but rather of at least 60.
The Senate currently consists of 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and 2 independents. Furthermore, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he will submit the terms of the North Korea-US agreement to the Senate in the form of a treaty, which is unlikely to pass without the approval of the Democratic Party.
Joel Wit, director of North Korea affairs website 38 North and a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, said that the Democratic Party’s attitude is the same as what the Republican Party used to hold.
“We need to be measured and careful about what our standards are for success,” Wit said during a press briefing. “If you’re going to set a standard for success, in terms of an agreement that somehow deals with chemical and biological weapons, you’re not going to have a success, because they’re not going to be dealt with right away.”
During the same press conference, Robert Gallucci, a former US State Department ambassador-at-large on the North Korean nuclear issue, expressed his approval of Trump’s use of the word “process” in regard to North Korea’s denuclearization: “That’s good, because it moves us away from a ‘big bang theory’ of everything happening all at once.”
By Hwang Joon-bum, staff reporter
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