Cardin: Trump’s warning for North Korea isn’t a game plan

The August recess hasn't stopped members of Congress from weighing in on President Trump's latest warnings to North Korea. Judy Woodruff speaks with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., about the president’s fiery comments and whether the administration has a well-thought-out strategy, plus how the U.S. should approach diplomacy while turning up the pressure on the nation.

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    President Trump's latest warnings to North Korea come as Congress is away on recess, but it hasn't stopped lawmakers from weighing in.

    We turn to one of them now, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin of Maryland.

    I spoke to him just a short time ago and began by asking if President Trump's latest threats are helpful.


    Judy, I think not.

    I think it's going to be very counterproductive. The international community looks to the United States for leadership to find a way that we can avoid a military conflict with North Korea that could involve nuclear weapons. And the president's statement gives little hope that could be accomplished.

    It questions whether the United States really has a strategy to bring North Korea to change their way. So, it is, I think, extremely unhelpful, the comments the president made and continues to make in regards to the use of force.

    What we need to do is work with China changing the equation, so that China enforces the sanctions that were just recently reinforced by the U.N. Security Council against North Korea, so that we can get North Korea to come to the bargaining table and give up their nuclear weapons.


    Well, Senator, I'm sure you heard the president makes the argument that the United States has let North Korea get away with its tough rhetoric for years, let it get away with this nuclear buildup.

    We see what the result is. And the president saying it's time for someone to stand up for the American people, in his words.


    Well, it is time to enforce sanctions. And that means for China — China doesn't want North Korea to become a nuclear weapons state.

    What China wants to do is protect the communist regime on its border, so the United States needs to work with China to indicate this is not about regime change for North Korea. It's about changing their course on nuclear warfare. And that's an area where China would agree with the United States.

    China can guarantee North Korea, its regime, that it must change its course on its nuclear policies. That's what we need to negotiate. And there's a way forward. If we rely on military, the risk factors are so great, the casualties could be so high, and the outcome uncertain. So we should give diplomacy the best chance possible.

    And the president's comments yesterday and today have made that more difficult.


    What do you think about the idea of the United States accepting North Korea's current posture as a nuclear power and then negotiating?


    No, I don't think we accept North Korea having a nuclear weapon capacity that violates international protocols. That's not an acceptable option. It's not acceptable for the United States. It's not acceptable for South Korea. It's not acceptable for Japan.

    All that's going to do is accelerate more countries in the region wanting to have nuclear weapons. That's not a way in which we want to move forward with stability in that region. So, what we need to do is turn the pressure up on North Korea. That means really enforcing sanctions.

    If you do that, North Korea's going to have to come and negotiate. What North Korea is mostly concerned about is the regime's security. That's an area that we can talk about, and that's an area in which diplomacy can work in bringing about an acceptable solution for their nuclear weapons program.


    Well, do you have an understanding that this administration is working on enforcing those sanctions, whether it's the secretary of state or the president's national security advisers or others in the administration?


    Judy, I don't think we have confidence that the president has a well-thought-out policy for North Korea. If he did, I don't think he would have made the statements he did, which I understand were not thought out, were not after consultation with his advisers.

    He made these comments because he thought it was the right thing to say at the moment. That's not having a policy. A policy is a well-thought-out game plan that gives us the very best chance to let diplomacy work and get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, in exchange for which there will be rewards for North Korea, that their economy will be able to grow, that their people will be more prosperous, and, yes, their security can be guaranteed, particularly by China.

    So,there's a way of a path forward, but it involves the president showing leadership in the international community.


    But are you and others on the Foreign Relations Committee, the chairman, Republican Bob Corker, trying to talk to the administration about this to get your point of view across? What's Senator Corker saying to you about this?


    Well, we have talked with the administration on several occasions. We have received briefings on several occasions.

    But I have not yet seen a coordinated strategy from this administration in North Korea or, by the way, in some of the other hot spots in the same areas of the world. We have not seen that.

    I think the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is very concerned about the president working with Congress, so we have a coordinated strategy. We all agree nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in North Korea must end. That's not an acceptable course. They cannot threaten the United States, cannot threaten South Korea or Japan or other countries in that region, that there's a path forward. We all agree on that.

    We also agree that we are going to have to be very tough on sanctions and that China is a key player. And we're prepared to work this administration to make it easier for China to be tougher on North Korea.


    But, in the meantime, until this happens, how worried are you? How worried should the American people be about, oh, something happening, whether it's an attack by the North Koreans or some other step that would result in something catastrophic?


    Well, I must tell you, I think this is a very dangerous situation.

    I think this is probably — it is the worst we have seen between the North Korea and the rest of the world as far as their weapons program is concerned. So, this is a very, very serious matter.

    I have a lot of confidence in our ability to maintain the safety of our people. The Department of Defense does their mission best of any country in the world. We will take care of ourselves.

    But I think we have let this situation get too dangerous. And now is the time for the international community, through U.S. leadership, to find a way so that we can have diplomacy work in North Korea.


    Senator Ben Cardin, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we thank you very much.


    Thank you, Judy.

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