Trump administration officials intend to ask Congress to approve any nuclear deal President Donald Trump might strike with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says has vowed to give up his nuclear arsenal.
Pompeo told reporters at the White House Thursday the administration would submit a “document” to Congress for their review and possible approval. The idea is to give Kim confidence that a possible nuclear accord would be honored when the next U.S. administration takes over in 2021 or 2025.
“We’re hoping to submit a document that Congress would also have a say in,” he said. “That would give currency and strength and elongation to the process so that when administrations change ... Chairman Kim will have comfort that American policy will continue down the same path ... we hope to set in Singapore.”
Peace treaties require two-thirds vote margins in the Senate. That means it could be difficult to find enough Democratic votes, especially since the opposition party has not been eager to help Trump enact his policy agenda or confirm his nominees. Pompeo did not address a question about whether the “document” to which he referred would be a formal treaty.
Last month, when praising the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Obama-era Iran deal, Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch said he “absolutely” wanted the Trump administration to send a treaty to the Senate for consent to ratification if there’s an agreement reached with North Korea.
“Absolutely, and if I were a North Korean I’d want to see that because they have lawyers. They understand that the only way we’re bound is to go through the treaty process,” Risch said on May 8.
Risch is in line to become the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee next Congress, with the looming retirement of Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
Any such high-stakes votes on Capitol Hill are months away if the two adversaries can reach an agreement. Among the many unresolved issues even before Trump and Kim meet is the definition of “denuclearization.”
But it is unclear whether the North defines that as giving up its entire atomic arsenal and infrastructure — along with its long-range missiles nuclear warheads ride on — or whether Kim expects the term to apply to the entire Korean Peninsula. If he believes the latter, that could cover U.S. nuclear arms positioned there now.
North Korean officials have “confirmed to us their willingness to denuclearize,” Pompeo said. But he did not, in opening remarks at the briefing, say whether the two sides agree on the definition of that word. But at another point, he said the North must agree to “completely and verifiably eliminates its weapons of mass destruction programs.”
Asked to elaborate on the Kim government’s alleged pledge to denuclearize, Pompeo simply responded, “No.”
Hours before Pompeo addressed reporters, Trump responded to a few questions in the Oval Office at the start of an afternoon of talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“I think I’m very well prepared. I don’t think I have to prepare that much,” Trump said. “It’s about attitude.”
“It’s about willingness to get things done,” he added. “But I think I’ve been prepared for this summit for a long time.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, an Armed Services Committee member, expressed concern about next week’s summit.
“You have a president who is about to engage in negotiations ill-prepared, and who changes his mind every other day, and you have on the other side Kim Jong Un who already is known to not keep his promises,” she told CNN this week. “This is not a great setting of the stage for fruitful negotiations.”
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., a former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told Roll Call on Thursday he shares such concerns. But when asked if he is worried Trump and Kim are moving forward with an inverted — and unprecedented — diplomatic process, he responded, referring to efforts by the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations’ failed efforts to resolve the North Korean matter: “So far, nothing’s worked.”
“Let’s give him credit for sitting down and trying to resolve the issue,” Ruppersberger said. “So far, I’ve been concerned about his threats and his rhetoric, and his compulsion to make decision based on watching a morning TV show. It’s more about endgame.”
Asked about the president’s comment, Pompeo said Trump and his team have been preparing for “months and months.” The president has been briefed on the military, economic and other aspects of the issue via “near daily briefings, including today,” Pompeo said.
“I am very confident the president will be fully prepared,” his top diplomat said.
Like Trump earlier in the day, Pompeo advised against expecting the two countries to strike a deal in Singapore next week. And amid criticism from Democratic lawmakers and former foreign policy officials that two leaders should meet at the end — rather than at the beginning of such a process — the only U.S. official to have met with Kim said the North Korean leader agrees that the traditional process has not worked.
The North Korean dictator agrees with Trump that “it needs to be big and bold.”
The U.S. wants Kim to agree to give up his atomic weapons. He wants Washington to give him assurances about his post-deal security and economic aid.
“That doesn’t happen instantaneously,” Pompeo said. “For that to take place, we’ve got to make bold decisions.”
As Democratic lawmakers warn the U.S. commander in chief is not ready for such an important summit, Pompeo said Trump is going into next week’s summit in Singapore “with his eyes wide open.”
He also tried to tamp down reports that he and national security adviser John Bolton have been at odds over the summit. Pompeo told reporters he expects to disagree with the hawkish Bolton with some “consistency,” and that the two officials will each give candid advice to the president.
“We’re moving forward,” Pompeo said of the palace intrigue. “Ambassdor Bolton and I will disagree with great consistency over time. ... It’s absolutely the case that Ambassador Bolton and I will disagree,” he said with a chuckle. “And I think the president demands that we each give him our own views.”