Sen. Cardin on needing ‘mature’ leadership on North Korea, Turkish referendum concerns

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    Fallout from Sunday's referendum vote in Turkey continued today, with critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for the results to be annulled.

    That is just one of a series of important issues being dealt with by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    I spoke just a short while ago with its ranking member, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.

    I began by asking him if he was concerned by President Trump's call last night to President Erdogan to congratulate him on his apparent victory.


    Well, Turkey is a very vibrant democracy, and it's, of course, one of our NATO allies.

    They had a referendum. The referendum, according to local officials, did pass. We are certainly concerned about some of the powers that are being consolidated by Mr. Erdogan, and about the checks and balances in their own system.

    There's also been questions raised as to the legitimacy of some of the votes that were cast. So, there are still issues that I think need to be addressed by Turkey.

    As far as President Trump calling President Erdogan, that's a personal decision he made. I think it's important to recognize this is an important ally.


    And so you are watching the way ballots were cast? I ask because European observers are saying that some 2.5 million ballots may have been cast fraudulently.


    Yes, I'm very concerned about that.

    There's been some legitimate concerns raised about some of the techniques that were used and the way the election was conducted. So we are concerned. It was a close election. It was not a — it was a pretty close call between the two. The amount of resources that were made available were certainly not equal on both sides.

    There are some questions on some of the processes that — procedures that were used. So, yes, we are concerned. And we hope that the Erdogan government will have a complete independent investigation on how the elections itself were conducted.


    Let me turn you to North Korea.

    As you know, tensions have been raised significantly just in the last few days. The rhetoric, both from the United States, from the Trump administration, and from the North Koreans, has gotten hotter. This administration is saying what they call the era of strategic patience is over.

    Last night on this program, I interviewed the former Defense Secretary William Perry, who said he's alarmed by the state of relations between our two countries.

    Where do you stand? How concerned are you?


    Well, I'm very, very concerned.

    Clearly, the young leader of North Korea is a very dangerous person. We're not sure how he makes decisions. We have seen what he does to people who oppose him, including members of his own family. He's not a stable leader.

    Now is the time for the United States to exercise some very mature international leadership to try to calm things down on the Korean Peninsula, and to change the calculation for North Korea, so that it's — they recognize it's in their interests to negotiate the end of the nuclear weapon program.

    That requires China to be much more aggressive in isolating North Korea with the sanctions that have been imposed, so that we can really make it clear to North Korea that their only path forward is to negotiate with the international community. That requires strong, mature U.S. leadership. We need a game plan that can accomplish those types of objectives on the Korean Peninsula.


    Are you seeing that game plan from this administration?


    No, I'm not — I'm not clear what the administration's policy is. They haven't really shared that with Congress. I'm not sure they have a comprehensive policy for the Korean Peninsula.

    We want to make sure that North Korea doesn't possess the ability to use nuclear weapons, particularly to be able to deliver those nuclear weapons through the missiles that they are testing, and that we want to make sure also that North Korea is more in harmony with the international community in the way they treat its own people.

    So, and, obviously, we're concerned about the security of South Korea. So, there's a lot of interest that the United States has on the Korean Peninsula. And we haven't seen an articulated, coordinated policy from this administration.


    We're moving around the world. There's so much to ask you about, Senator, but I also want to speak to you about Russia.

    Besides Russian meddling in U.S. elections, there's now growing concern about Russian involvement in upcoming elections in France and in Germany.

    You are the sponsor, along with others, a bipartisan bill in the Senate to impose sanctions on Russia for cyber-activity. That was — that legislation was introduced months ago. The Russians are still doing this. Do they — what's your sense of how seriously they take any sort of retaliation or action by the U.S.?


    Well, we do know that the sanctions that were led by the United States, and which Europe has joined us, has had a major impact on the Russian economy.

    So, we believe sanctions can be very effective in changing the equation for Russia and what they're doing, not just in meddling in our elections or meddling in European elections, but what they're doing in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea — there's still engagement on the eastern part of Ukraine — and the manner in which they are supporting the Assad regime in Syria committing war crimes.

    All those behaviors by Russia, we believe, need to change, and we believe sanctions can be a major part of that. So, yes, we want to enhance those sanctions to make them stronger. We have a strong bipartisan group, 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans, that have joined in this legislation.

    We do know that Russia meddled in our election. We know that. We know that they meddled in the Montenegro election. We know that and caused violence. We know that they're very active today in France and in Germany trying to impact that election, not only impact the integrity of the election, but also the results, to get a more pro-Russian leader — leaders in Europe.

    That is totally unacceptable, and we need to be united with our European allies to prevent that from happening.


    And is the Trump administration supporting that legislation?


    Well, I really have not had much communication with the Trump administration in regards to Russian policy.

    There are major players yet to be named that — from the administration that will require Senate confirmation. So we're still awaiting their full team to be in place. In my conversations with Mr. Tillerson, I have made it very clear. I think he's made it clear in recent weeks.

    So, we're trying to give the administration more tools it can use for an effective policy against Russia's aggressive actions.


    Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thank you very much.


    Thank you, Judy.

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