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Congress glad Trump walked in Vietnam, but questions trust in Kim Jong Un

Criticism of his accepting Kim’s denial of knowledge of Otto Warmbier’s treatment

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is among the lawmakers who supported President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is among the lawmakers who supported President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Members of Congress are glad President Donald Trump didn’t emerge from his meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with a bad bargain, but some are blasting the president’s taking the dictator at his word about the deadly treatment of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance, said she’s “glad that the president walked away” from the North Korean leader’s offer to denuclearize only if the United States lifted all sanctions against his country.

“It’s good that the president did not give him anything for the little that he was proposing,” the California Democrat said. 

Still, Pelosi wondered why it took Trump as long as he did to realize Kim’s motivations were not well intentioned.

Lawmakers were also alarmed that Trump seemed to shield Kim from responsibility for the treatment of Warmbier, an American college student, who died shortly after being released from North Korean captivity.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, compared Trump’s comments about Warmbier to the president not holding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman responsible for the murder of former Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

“I strongly object to the President trying to excuse Kim Jong Un for the death of Otto Warmbier. Otto was a student at the University of Virginia and he was brutalized by the North Korean regime,” Kaine said in a statement to Roll Call. “The notion that Kim Jong Un would have been unaware of the physical condition of this very highly publicized American prisoner is just beyond belief.”

“And of course, it reminds us of President Trump stating that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, MBS, had no knowledge of the plans to torture and murder Virginia resident, journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” Kaine said.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff also focused on what Trump told reporters about Warmbier before the president departed Vietnam.

“President Trump’s credulous acceptance of Kim’s denial of any involvement in the death of Otto Warmbier is detestable and harkens back to Trump’s acceptances of other equally implausible denials from other dictators. American diplomacy is strongest when it is rooted in our nation’s core values,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “There must be no full normalization of relations with the DPRK until the regime permanently ceases its gross human rights violations.”

Schiff did say Trump’s decision to leave without reaching an agreement with the North Koreans was preferable to the alternative, but that the result of the summit demonstrated a lack of strong advance work.

“The most telling sign of North Korea’s fundamental lack of commitment to real denuclearization can be seen in its refusal to provide a detailed accounting of its nuclear and missile sites,” Schiff said. “The Trump Administration’s decision that this would not be required before a second summit with the President was a serious mistake, and one that allowed Kim the prestige of sharing the world stage with a U.S. President while committing to nothing in return.”

Opening the Senate Thursday morning, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky praised the president’s decision to end negotiations due to insufficient progress on denuclearization.

“Kim Jong Un now has a long train ride home, and he will have time to reflect on the future that is still within North Korea’s grasp. But the president has demonstrated that such a future must be accompanied by real de-nuclearization. Every country has a stake in North Korea’s de-nuclearization,” McConnell said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer also said Trump made the correct decision in walking away without an agreement, praising the president’s refusal to accept a “poor deal” and urged the president to continue insisting on “complete verifiable denuclearization.”

Schumer also advocated a similar approach in upcoming negotiations with China, saying Trump has a “generational imperative” to insist on “enduring structural reform” of Chinese trade policy, an issue the Democrat from New York called “critical to American economic security.

Tia Yang contributed to this report.