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- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following statement at the full Committee hearing, “Countering the North Korean Threat: New Steps in U.S. Policy:”

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you for calling this hearing to look into one of the most complicated and dangerous national security issues we’re facing.  The Kim regime’s nuclear, missile, and offensive cyber capabilities are a problem for us and for our friends and allies in the Asia-Pacific.  I would say they are a problem to everybody.

“To our witnesses: welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee.  We’re grateful for your time and your expertise on this matter.

“Because I have been to North Korea twice, people think I am an expert on Korea, but actually I’m not.  I have been there twice, one time with my friend Joe Wilson, I don’t know if Joe is here yet.  But Joe said to me that he and I are the only two members of Congress currently who have visited North Korea.  I can tell you we only were in Pyongyang, but it is unlike lots of things we’ve seen before.  Unlike.

“Last year, North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of illegal nuclear and conventional weapons tests.  These tests were met with strong rebukes by the UN Security Council, and the Obama Administration played a pivotal role, working with China to close a loophole in existing sanctions related to coal—and we’re watching closely to see if China is keeping its word about limiting coal imports from North Korea.

“But with each test, the North Koreans learned more and more about how to perfect their illegal weapons.  And with each test, our allies in Seoul and Tokyo are reminded of just how dangerous their neighborhood has become.  After all, they’re sitting in the direct path of a North Korean conventional or nuclear attack every day.  That’s why the South Korean government is moving ahead with the deployment of the THAAD anti-ballistic missile, a purely defensive system, despite protests from Beijing.

“And we should be clear: this threat is not limited to Northeast Asia.  The best minds working on this problem agree that North Korea is just a few years—or even less—from a weapon that could reach the United States.

“So we’re left with a critically short period of time to stop that from happening.  The President recently tweeted that it never will.  Well, I hope for our sake, he’s asking the questions and shaping the policies that would forestall such a development. 

“I must say, however, I worry about some of the new President’s other comments that touch on this issue.  That more countries should have access to nuclear weapons, that we should increase our own nuclear arsenal, that we should wage a trade war with China, whose cooperation is essential in dealing with North Korea. 

“And of course, when we’re talking about a regime with a human rights record as terrible as North Korea’s, slamming our door on refugees is in a sense turning away from the plight that the North Korean people are enduring.

“So I hope today, we can have a good conversation about that right approach to these policies and the best way to see them put in place.

“Now, in my view, our approach needs to factor in just how volatile the Kim regime can be.  At the same time, we have little visibility into their military capabilities and decision-making apparatus.  So we need to come at this challenge with a combination of shrewd diplomacy, tough economic sanctions, defensive military measures, and cool-headed calculation—the sort of wrap-around approach that gets all our international partners involved. 

“This is not a problem we can solve on our own.  We need our allies. So keeping our promises to them matter—for their security and for the security of the US service members deployed in Northeast Asia. 

“I’m glad that Secretary Mattis’s first trip was to Asia, and I trust that his meetings provided a sense of reassurance to our friends.  And I’m sure we will be able to ask him questions hopefully when he comes before the committee.

“We also need to keep China from working at cross-purposes with us in this effort.  China is the lynchpin for sanctions enforcement against the Kim regime.  So it would be foolish to alienate Beijing, either through a reckless trade policy or by sweeping second- and third-order sanctions that crack down on Chinese entities but cost us Beijing’s support.

“So we have to keep a lot of balls in the air: pressure the regime, keep China onboard with existing sanctions, while stepping up enforcement, reassure our allies, get the Kim regime back to the table. 

“Obviously it’s complex stuff.  Foreign policy usually is.  And we’ve struggled across Republican and Democratic Administrations to find the right balance, but I’m convinced that American leadership can and will make the difference.  We cannot back away from this responsibility, because the cost of failure in this case is just too great.

“So I’m interested in hearing our witnesses’ views on getting to a reasonable policy toward North Korea.  Our Chairman has been especially interested in this region and has done a lot of good work in the region.  I know many of his constituents are interested in it as well.

“But we all should be interested because it is such an important region for us and for the world.  So, Mr. Chairman, I thank you again and I yield back.”