– As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks at a full Committee hearing at which Thae Yong-ho, a high-ranking North Korean defector, offered testimony:
“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. And I stand by every word you said in your opening statement. We have no disagreement on this very important issue.
“Mr. Thae: welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee. We’re deeply grateful for your time this morning.
“As the Chairman said, several Members of the Committee, myself included, have visited North Korea. I have been there twice, but not lately.
“We’ve had dozens and dozens of diplomats and experts appear before us to discuss our strategy for dealing with Pyongyang, to shed light on the abuses of the Kim regime, to provide insight on North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.
“You know, one of the things that was interesting when I was in Pyongyang, is I got up early in the morning and walked around and we saw a lot of people going to work. And they looked well fed, they looked well dressed, everything was fine. I was then told by others that these were the elites. The only ones in North Korea that are functioning well. And they kept us out of any place other than Pyongyang. They didn’t want us to see what was going on in the rest of the country.
“So the insight you can provide, Mr. Thae, will give our Members and the public a unique perspective on this challenge.
“You come to us at an urgent time, obviously.
“The Kim Regime has accelerated its development of nuclear weapons and ways to deliver them. Our allies South Korea and Japan are at risk, and the day is quickly approaching when North Korea will have the ability to hit the United States with a devastating nuclear payload.
“Any conflict on the Korean peninsula—nuclear or conventional—would entail horrific loss of life.
“This is one of the most urgent challenges we face on the global stage—no doubt about it. And let’s call it the way we see it. Administrations of both parties have failed to put a lid on the Kim Regime’s nuclear program over the course of decades.
“But I feel that what’s happening now, the President and the Administration is undermining diplomacy in North Korea where it’s needed more than ever, hampering our ability to lead on the issue. The strategy that key Cabinet officials laid out seems to call for a combination of multilateral diplomatic and economic pressure. These policies, along with shows of military force like flying bombers in South Korean airspace, are aimed at slowing North Korea’s advances. I’m not sure we’ve seen evidence of that, unfortunately.
“What we have seen is rising tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. Kim’s rhetoric, and the President’s rhetoric, has thrown fuel on the fire, and I believe it’s escalated the risk of conflict. Let me just say as I’ve said before, more than nine months into this Administration, we still have no Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, no Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, no Ambassador to South Korea. And I worry what may happen later on in this month when the President travels to Asia.
“So there’s lots and lots of work to be done and I’m glad that this Committee is staying focused on this issue.
“I hope we will hear from the Administration again soon on its path forward. This is especially important in light of the many senior-level discussions with allies and partners in Asia, due to take place over the next few weeks, in conjunction with the President’s trip.
“So I’ll wrap up, because I want to make sure most of our time today is spent hearing from our witness.
“Again, we’re fortunate to have you, Mr. Thae, with us today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.”
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