06.19.18

Senator Gardner Discusses Trump-Kim Summit

Washington, D.C.- Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity, yesterday addressed the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Korea Foundation.

Click here to watch Gardner’s remarks.

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Victor, thank you for the kind introduction. I am delighted to be back at the CSIS and appear before you today.

We live in interesting times.

The pomp and circumstance, or some might say spectacle, of the Singapore Summit is now in the history books. 

We are still deciphering what impact this meeting will have on the North Korea problem set, on our alliances in East Asia, and also more broadly, on the perception of American leadership around the world.

The last time I publicly spoke at CSIS was exactly 11 months ago on July 18, 2017, at your annual South China Sea Conference.

I said at the time “Last year alone, North Korea conducted 2 nuclear tests and a staggering 24 ballistic missile launches. This year, Pyongyang already launched 17 missiles, including the July 4 successful test on an intercontinental ballistic missile that is reportedly capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii.

Patience is not an option with the U.S. homeland in the nuclear shadow of Kim Jong Un. 

Kim Jong Un is committed to developing his nuclear and missile program with one goal in mind: to have a reliable capability to deliver to a nuclear warhead to Seoul, Tokyo, and most importantly, to the United States homeland.”

I believe this statement largely remains accurate today.

Unfortunately, we are not much further along to complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization, or CVID, than we were a year ago.

While Kim Jong Un has not launched a missile in nearly seven months, he also hasn’t taken any other steps that could be considered credible or irreversible. 

According to experts, the four-point agreement hammered out in Singapore is- on the face of it- weaker that the denuclearization commitments that the Kim family has already made in the past, and then repeatedly violated. 

The Singapore agreement does not explicitly mention CVID, verification mechanisms, or human rights. 

At best, this meeting was a statement of intent, and a hard, long, uncertain road lies ahead.

However, it would be disingenuous to deny that the tensions are down significantly on the Korean Peninsula, and that is due to the unique efforts of both President Trump and President Moon. 

As Victor wrote in the New York Times last week:

“Despite the many warts in President Trump’s unconventional diplomacy toward North Korea, we have to give him credit. Only five months ago, based on conversations with this administration, I thought we were headed down an inexorable path toward a devasting war.

A military attack would not have ended North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Instead, it would have resulted in a war, with hundreds of thousands of deaths in Japan and South Korea, including thousands of Americans, and that the United States would have won but with horrible costs.”

I think we can all agree that an uncomfortable peace is still preferable to destructive conflict, even if it is a conflict with a likely favorable ultimate outcome.

I am, of course, also glad that three American hostages in North Korea have been released – President Trump and his team fully deserve praise for bringing these innocent men home to their families. 

Tragically, Otto Warmbier was not so fortunate as to return home to Fred and Cindy Warmbier, his incredible parents that I have gotten to know well – and who are now fierce advocates for justice for their son. 

Tomorrow, it will be one year since Otto passed away from the horrific injuries inflicted upon him by the evil that he faced in North Korea. 

We must never forget Otto and also never forget the nature of the regime that caused his death. And I will never stop helping Fred and Cindy achieve justice against those that committed these heinous acts against their precious son.

It is certainly not unprecedented for United States leaders to meet with brutal dictators to achieve certain U.S. national security objectives – and even be cordial to those dictators.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and, according to one of his biographers, the men actually enjoyed a warm relationship – so much so that Stalin, the man who conquered half of Europe and murdered millions of his own citizens in purges and GULAG camps, would apparently “grin and burst into a delighted laughter” when interacting with FDR.

When meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong in 1972, President Nixon famously said that the “Chairman’s writings moved a nation and have changed the world” – that was only a decade after Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” caused the death of over 50 million Chinese citizens.

President Reagan, the man who called the Soviet Union an “evil empire”, nevertheless built a genuine friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev – to the extent that Gorbachev said at Reagan’s funeral that he grieved for the “man whom fate sat by me in perhaps the most difficult years at the end of the 20th century.”

Of course, Kim Jong Un is neither Stalin, Mao, or even Gorbachev.

North Korea is not the Middle Kingdom, or much less Soviet Union at the end of World War II or the Cold War.

So it is my hope that the flattery and bonhomie extended during this summit to a 34-year old hereditary ruler of the one of the world’s most backward nations, which has the economy of one-tenth the size of its neighbor South Korea, was in some way an effective maneuver to achieve denuclearization.  Only time will tell.

But our goal should never be to befriend two-bit dictators or give them the appearance of global legitimacy by the greatest nation the world has ever known. Our goal should be to bring North Korea into compliance with its international obligations – no more, no less.

I agree with President Trump that there is a brighter path for North Korea -- perhaps even a path that leads to American beachside investments -- but only if the United States and the international community are fully assured that Pyongyang no longer represents a threat to its people, its neighbors, and global peace and stability.

During my recent visit to Vietnam, I spoke at length with our Ambassador and high-level Vietnamese officials about the historical path that led to reconciliation between our two nations – and how this model could potentially apply to North Korea, should it choose the path of denuclearization and peaceful coexistence.

But that is the historical choice that only Kim Jong Un can make – and so far there is little indication that he is ready to make this choice.

In the meantime, let us all not forget that North Korea challenge remains grave.

Instead of taking care of its people over the last three decades, North Korea has built the world’s largest illicit arsenal of mass destruction, including nuclear, ballistic missile, biological, chemical, and radiological weapons programs.

According to intelligence assessments, North Korea is dangerously close to having a viable intercontinental ballistic missile capability that can reach the United States mainland.

The summit does not change these facts -- North Korea still remains a nuclear threat to the United States and our allies.

Moreover, every time we have tried to negotiate in good faith with this regime, it led to a shakedown – pure and simple. 

So my message today to both the Administration as well as our South Korean friends – let’s not get fooled again. 

Let’s also not forget that North Korea remains the world’s most pervasive violator of human rights, with up to 200,000 men, women, and children in detention camps. A landmark 2014 United Nations human rights report said that the regime is committing genocide against its own people.

Last Tuesday, I met with a group of North Korean defectors, including Ji Seong-Ho, the brave man honored by President Trump during this year’s State of the Union address before Congress. 

Ji told me that the United States needs to exert MORE, not less, pressure to call attention to Pyongyang’s atrocious human rights record, to have any chance of affecting the horrendous realities on the ground in North Korea. 

This is advice that the Administration -- and our friends in Seoul -- should heed closely. 

Despite the grave threat the regime has posed for decades, when I came to the Senate in 2015, few were focused on the North Korea problem set, which led me to refer Kim Jong Un at the time as the “Forgotten Maniac.” 

The United States policy at the time, called “strategic patience”, was clearly failing to deter the regime.

It was Congress that took the lead and recognized that without an immediate change in U.S. policy and a robust global pressure campaign, we could never gain the necessary leverage to force the regime to change course and to denuclearize.

On February 10, 2016, the United States Senate passed my North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, or NKSPEA, by a vote of 96-0, and President Obama signed it into law 8 days later. 

The bill was the first standalone legislation to mandate sanctions against North Korea and its enablers for proliferation, human rights, and cybersecurity violations. 

NKSPEA has since become the backbone of the current “maximum pressure” policy toward the regime.

According to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: “The North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act…marked a turning point in U.S. sanctions. The law spurred the Obama administration to issue new designations while creating the framework for the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy.”

Since the passage of NKSPEA, U.S. sanctions against North Korea have increased by 276 percent, or almost three-fold. 

Even with this increase, North Korea moved from the 8th-most sanctioned nation by the United States to being the 4th-most sanctioned nation today. 

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. 

The Trump Administration has also conducted a successful international diplomatic isolation campaign against North Korea, resulting in over 20 nations downgrading or ending commercial and diplomatic ties with the regime.

For example, the Philippines was once North Korea third-largest trading partner, with nearly $100 million in bilateral trade. 

In May 2017, I had the opportunity to visit the Philippines and to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte. One major topic of discussion was North Korea and the threat it presents to global peace and stability. 

President Duterte pledged to me that the Philippines would wind down all business ties with North Korea.   

In September 2017, Manila ended all trade with Pyongyang – a resounding success for U.S. diplomacy.

But now that we have painstakingly built the sanctions leverage and brought Pyongyang to the negotiating table, it would be misguided to let up on the pressure valve.

I am comforted that the Administration, particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have publicly stated that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea completely denuclearizes.

I am also comforted that Secretary Pompeo has stated that “in contrast to the previous administration, we want to include Congress as a partner in this process. We want our efforts to have broad support with the American people and endure beyond the Trump Administration. A treaty would be our preferred way to go.” 

Congress must – and will – demand rigorous oversight of any deal with North Korea.

We will also push back against any premature relief of sanctions, should that relief not be merited by the facts. 

Current United States law with regard to sanctions against North Korea, established through Section 402 of the NKSPEA, is clear: there can be no relief unless the regime makes “significant progress toward completely, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantling all of its nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons programs, including all programs for the development of systems designed in whole or in part for the delivery of such weapons.”  

NKSPEA also mandates -- not simply authorizes -- the continual identification and designation of new entities for sanctions, which unfortunately has not happened in several months now. 

Effective sanctions require constant action and enforcement, or otherwise they are no more than words on paper. 

I have urged the Administration to re-think this current pause and to resume the robust imposition of sanctions against Pyongyang and its enablers – regardless of where they are based. 

The Administration has the opportunity to use these broad authorities to exert maximum pressure not only with Pyongyang, but also with Beijing. 

China remains Pyongyang’s main enabler and trade partner – and thus a target-rich environment for U.S. sanctions. 

A report released last June by an independent organization, C4ADS, identified over 5,000 Chinese companies that are doing business with North Korea. These Chinese companies are apparently responsible for around $7 billion in trade with North Korea.  

According to open source evidence, North Korea has also used Chinese banks to process at least $2.2 billion in transactions through the U.S. financial system.  This is unacceptable.

Last July, the United States finally designated a Chinese financial institution, the Bank of Dandong, for conducting business with North Korea. It regrettably remains the only one such designation to date.

Although the diplomatic process with Pyongyang is ongoing, the Administration should see the benefit of making it clear to any entity doing business with North Korea that they will not be able to do business with the United States or have access to the U.S. financial system.

Exclusion from the center of the world’s financial system is a penalty that most businesses can ill-afford to bear.

Such efforts will also re-affirm to not only Kim Jong Un, but also Beijing and Moscow, that cosmetic concessions will not be enough to dismantle our sanctions regime -- especially the powerful secondary sanctions that have been instrumental in cutting off trade with Pyongyang.

In fact, we should strengthen our sanctions regime by enacting legislation such as the Leverage to Enhance Effective Diplomacy, or the LEED Act, which I authored with my colleague Senator Ed Markey. 

The LEED Act would impose a mandatory trade embargo against Pyongyang and impose sanctions against all those violating that embargo.

The Administration should make clear to all that the only way we will dismantle the U.S. and international sanctions regime is when Pyongyang completely dismantles every single nut and bolt of its illicit weapons programs – not a minute earlier.

Sanctions against Pyongyang must continue to go hand-in-hand with a robust military posture by the United States and our allies.

I believe that the Singapore Summit would not have happened if Pyongyang did not believe that if seriously provoked, the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan would take decisive military action – action that would have likely meant the end of the Kim regime.

Moscow and Beijing also knew – and feared – this scenario, and that is why they often eagerly joined Pyongyang to condemn these military readiness activities.

As I stated in my speech to you all here last July:

“The Administration should also continue to reject any ill-conceived Chinese “freeze for freeze” negotiations proposals. 

We should never horse-trade the illegal activities that North Korea is conducting – and which have been condemned by multiple UN Security Council Resolutions – for completely legal activities under the U.S.-ROK alliance."

With the Administration’s announcement that it plans to suspend joint exercises with the Republic of Korea in the fall, it regrettably appears that we have taken a major leap toward such a “freeze-for-freeze” scenario. 

Vice-President Pence has personally assured me that regular readiness and training will continue. 

Furthermore, removing any U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula in the near future would be a profound mistake.  

This action would only be favorable to our adversaries, whose main goal for generation has been to push the United States out of the Korean Peninsula and to break the U.S-ROK alliance – an alliance that was forged in blood and has endured for nearly seven decades.

As President Dwight Eisenhower stated in his address to the South Korean National Assembly on June 20, 1960: 

The United Nations response to the attack in 1950 was one of the significant events of history. This united determination of free countries will not be forgotten by those who would wage aggression or by those who seek to maintain their full independence and security.

The cause for which free nations fought here in Korea transcended physical stemming of Communist aggression. Their greater and more far-reaching purpose was to strengthen and safeguard, on the mainland of Asia, a nation founded on the principles of government by and for the people.”

It is my sincerest wish that the summit in Singapore puts us on a sustainable road to peace. 

On that road to peace, however, we should never forget what we are fighting for, who are our friends are, and who are our adversaries.

Let us not forget that there can be no moral equivalency between brutal dictatorships and free societies that seek to stop their abuses. We must always strive to befriend the oppressed, but never the oppressor.

Thank you again to CSIS for having me here today.  I am now glad to take your questions.

 

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