Gardner, Graham, Rubio, Sullivan Send Letter Urging President Trump to Continue Maximum Pressure Toward North Korea

Washington, DCOn Thursday, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) sent a letter to President Trump calling on the Administration to continue the doctrine of maximum pressure against North Korea, including by imposing additional sanctions against the regime and resuming joint military exercises with South Korea.

This letter was sent before the Administration announced today that it was implementing additional sanctions against North Korea, including against a Russian bank and a Chinese firm aiding North Korea, as the letter demanded.

PDF of letter available here.

The letter reads in full

Dear Mr. President:

We write with serious concern that recent media reports, citing U.S. intelligence sources, allege that North Korea is continuing to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, including the intercontinental ballistic missile program that directly threatens the U.S. homeland. 

We commend your efforts to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but now call on you to fully implement your Administration’s “maximum pressure” policy toward North Korea, including by immediately imposing additional sanctions against the regime and its enablers as well as by enhancing U.S. military posture in East Asia, including resuming joint readiness exercises with South Korea.

According to the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, released on February 13, 2018: “North Korea will be among the most volatile and confrontational [Weapons of Mass Destruction] threats to the United States over the next year.” North Korea presents a clear and present danger to U.S. national security and multiple U.S. Administrations have failed to stop Pyongyang’s illicit nuclear, missile, and chemical weapons programs. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has imposed multiple binding resolutions against North Korea, condemning the regime’s illicit programs and imposing sanctions against Pyongyang. On June 12, 2018, following the Singapore Summit between you and Kim Jong Un, North Korea pledged “to work toward complete denuclearization.”

Because of the concerted U.S.-led global pressure campaign, North Korea has not openly test-fired a missile since November 28, 2017. On May 24, 2018, North Korea also detonated the entrance to the tunnels at the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site as a “goodwill gesture” – although this site was already severely damaged and most likely rendered unusable after the nuclear test conducted there on September 3, 2017. 

On June 18, 2018, the Department of Defense announced that it will “indefinitely suspend” the 2018 Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) joint exercise with the Republic of Korea (ROK), along with two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises. The UFG is the largest joint U.S.-ROK exercise and in 2017, it involved 50,000 ROK forces and 17,500 U.S forces. Other U.S joint exercises with the ROK, including Foal Eagle and Max Thunder, have been scaled back this year as well.  

The Trump Administration is to be commended for abandoning the previous Administration’s failed policy of “strategic patience” and replacing it with the policy of “maximum pressure” that has significantly increased global pressure to bring North Korea into compliance with its international obligations.  

As you know, Congress has played a key role in crafting the “maximum pressure” policy toward North Korea. On February 10, 2016, the United States Senate passed the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, or NKSPEA, by a vote of 96-0, and it was signed into law on February 18, 2016. The bill was the first standalone legislation to mandate sanctions against North Korea and its enablers for proliferation, human rights, and cybersecurity violations. 

According to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), this legislation “marked a turning point in U.S. sanctions.” According to FDD, since the passage of NKSPEA, U.S. sanctions against North Korea have increased by 276 percent, or almost three-fold. Remarkably, the FDD also found that in the entire 8 years of the Obama Administration, there were 154 sanctions designations against North Korea. In the first 16 months of the Trump Administration, there have already been 156 such designations.

However, we note with concern that despite this overall positive change in policy, the Administration has not announced a major sanctions package against North Korea or its enablers since February 23, 2018. Moreover, we are now seeing disturbing reports that China and Russia are openly defying the enforcement of United Nations sanctions, including possibly violating oil export quotas and by continuing to host illicit North Korean slave labor.

Mr. President, on June 7, 2018, you stated after your meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: “We have a list of over 300 massive, in some cases, sanctions to put on North Korea. And I’ve decided to hold that until we can make a deal, because I really believe there’s a potential to make a deal.” We ask you to direct the Department of State and the Department of Treasury to immediately issue these designations, including against Chinese and Russian entities that are complicit.  

On July 25, 2018, Secretary Pompeo testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that North Korea continues to produce fissile material and has not taken any significant steps toward “concrete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization”, as required by U.S. law and the UNSC resolutions. Likewise, Secretary Pompeo confirmed that the State Department and the Treasury Department have identified numerous entities for possible violations of U.S. law with regard to North Korea sanctions, but could not answer why these entities have not been designated to date.  

Mr. President, we believe that the time to ramp up maximum pressure against North Korea is now, if we are to peacefully achieve the goal of the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the near future.