WASHINGTON (CN) – With preparations underway in Vietnam for President Donald Trump’s meeting this week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a House subcommittee gathered Tuesday to discuss what can be accomplished at the summit to make Americans safer.
Thursday’s meeting in Vietnam is set to pick up where last year’s summit in Singapore left off, continuing talks aimed at the complete denuclearization of North Korea. Ahead of the first summit, Trump emphasized a complete end to Kim’s nuclear efforts, but his message appears to have changed ahead of this week’s meeting in Hanoi.
“I don’t want to rush anybody. I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy,” Trump told reporters on Sunday.
At Tuesday’s meeting in the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, the general consensus pointed towards needing firmer goals in place regarding nuclear disarmament and human rights abuses before diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea can extend beyond just talks.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle generally agreed that Kim doesn’t deal in good faith, but GOP members doubled down on the fact that any negotiations at all should be considered historic.
Ranking member Ted Yoho from Florida said the Trump administration shifted the U.S. relationship with North Korea from “the brink of war to a period of diplomacy.”
Expert witness Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, began his testimony conceding that while “peace diplomacy” is useful, the U.S. is not reaching its negotiating potential without tangible, substantial disarmament.
Richardson said his “sense is that the summit will fall short in that area.”
Democrats voiced concerns that Trump’s niceties, however useful in establishing contact, aren’t doing enough to halt North Korea’s weapons program. Some also fear Trump could actually weaken the U.S. position by giving up too much in exchange for too little from Kim.
“He enters into these negotiations maybe with positive spirit, but not with great preparation,” Representative Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said, citing a lack of concrete goals and planning surrounding the North Korean summits.
Richardson agreed that while “atmospherics” are better in Southeast Asia, the concept of denuclearization means different things for the U.S. and North Korea, causing a “definition deficit” that has left agreements without teeth.
The U.S. wants a complete dismantling of nuclear weapons, Richardson said, while Kim seems to think he’ll be keeping them.
Victor Cha, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told lawmakers that Trump and Kim’s definitions of complete denuclearization are the same, but it is the ability to verify that Kim is holding up his end of potential agreements that will ultimately determine success.
Cha also cautioned against risking “bigger chips on the table” in a shaky bet that North Korea will keep its promises.
Both witnesses and several members of the panel agreed that goals for the summits need to be both measurable and realistic, which was missing from the first meeting in Singapore.
Success, Richardson said, will amount to establishing a framework for continuing negotiations while also putting safeguards in place against future conflict.
Kim and Trump are expected to participate in one-on-one sessions as well as meetings with larger delegations during the summit in Vietnam on Wednesday and Thursday.