WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks at a full Committee hearing on North Korea:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing. You and I have worked together for a long time on the Korean situation. We had a hearing on this topic to start the year. This Committee has worked in a bipartisan manner to advance some of the toughest sanctions ever on North Korea, which are now U.S. law. Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed to Resolution 2375 in response to the Kim Regime’s sixth nuclear test. And we’re revisiting the threat of North Korea today so we can hear directly from the Administration. Mr. Chairman, I’m grateful for your unwavering leadership on this issue.
“To our witnesses: welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee and thank you for your service.
“Assistant, Acting Assistant Secretary Thornton: I have tremendous confidence in you and our other career diplomats, but it’s hard to believe that nearly eight months into this Administration, there is no nominee for Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. The same goes for our Ambassador to South Korea, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, and a range of other senior State Department officials.
“This Administration has said that North Korea is its top foreign policy priority, but between the President’s dangerous and irresponsible communication on the matter and the inexplicable reluctance to get personnel in place: he is in my opinion undercutting his own ‘peaceful pressure strategy.’
“I view the Kim regime’s nuclear program as the single greatest threat to American national security and to global security. Right now, we need all hands on-deck and focused on the same objective. We do that here in this Committee.
“But that objective, of course, also gets to one of the main questions. While we all share the desire to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons, some have said that Kim will never give them up, regardless of the pressure.
“I’ve been to North Korea twice, Mr. Chairman, as you know, and I can tell you and everybody else that this is not a regime that looks at the world the way any other government does. The Kim regime is bent on self-preservation above all else, and is very willing to sacrifice their own people to achieve that end. That makes them, obviously, incredibly dangerous.
“The military options in a North Korea contingency are incredibly grim and it’s hard to overstate just how devastating a conflict on the Korean peninsula would be. If this conflict escalates into a war, we could be measuring the cost in millions of lives lost.
“Time is clearly running out. Once the regime in Pyongyang possesses nuclear weapons that can strike the United States, it will immediately raise questions about the [reliability] of our security commitments to our alliance partners Japan and Korea, South Korea.
“Nuclear capabilities of this kind would likely embolden the North Koreans to engage in other bad behavior, such as harassment of our allies and continued proliferation of nuclear technologies. Some even speculate that the Kim regime might even seek reunification of the Peninsula on its own terms.
“So we need a smart strategy first [of] all, and then deft and consistent execution of that strategy. And obviously that’s no easy task.
“Administrations of both parties were unable to put a stop to North Korea’s nuclear program. North Korea detonated its first nuclear weapon in 2006, and a few years later the Bush Administration removed North Korea from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list as an inducement to join the Six Party Talks. Since Kim Jong-Un assumed power, bomb and missile tests have increased in frequency. And this year, since the start of the Trump Administration, we have seen an alarming increase in the frequency and significance of tests, and of course, the detonation a few weeks ago of what appears to be a thermonuclear device.
“So where do we go from here?
“Personally, I agree with Secretary of Defense Mattis, that we’re ‘never out of diplomatic solutions’ when it comes to North Korea—although I’m not sure President Trump shares that view. Frankly, I’m not sure he even knows what his views are on this. At present, however, Kim Jung Un doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to sitting down for talks of any kind, much less sincere negotiations.
“The first order of business should be to have a moratorium on testing to halt the progress of North Korea’s nuclear program. Our objective has long been a denuclearized North Korea, and we cannot lose sight of that aim.
“In my view, we have not exhausted economic pressure through sanctions and we need to do all we can to keep pressure up on the Kim regime. But at the same time we increase pressure, we must also ramp up coordination with our allies. We must demonstrate that defensive military measures are at the ready, both to reassure our allies and to deter the regime from any action that could lead to deadly escalation.
“I’m interested in hearing from our witnesses today about how we’re going to pursue those aims.
“Under ordinary circumstances, I would say this is a tall order.
“But I have to say again the President’s behavior surrounding this crisis is making this situation even more challenging.
“Outrageous redlines like threats of ‘fire and fury,’ shaming our allies through tweets, inconsistently from one day to the next about Kim Jong-Un or China or our economic partnership with South Korea, picking a fight with South Korea right at this time, loose talk about expanding America’s nuclear arsenal and the proliferation of these devastating weapons.
“All these actions undermine the credibility of the office of the President and the credibility of the U.S. government, effectively undermining U.S. leadership and driving a wedge between Washington and our friends, creating grave uncertainty, with China, whose cooperation we need, and with North Korea, whose leader is, as we know, single-minded and ruthless.
“Our country faces a serious national security challenge and we need principled and visionary leadership. We need to be standing with our allies, acting with integrity, and reaffirming our commitments. The President needs to lead on the global stage, pushing China and Russia to enforce sanctions effectively and building consensus about a path forward—not waiting to see who does what next and then reacting with the first words that come to mind.
“So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about what American leadership should look like in this crisis, and how we find the right path forward.
“I thank you again, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.”
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