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Sen. Risch: North Korea diplomacy going in the right direction

President Trump deserves credit for turning relations with North Korea around, says Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, but more work needs to be done and more nuance is needed on the issue of the future of military exercises with South Korea. Risch joins Judy Woodruff to discuss first steps in North Korea diplomacy, the issue of human rights, plus Trump pulling the U.S. out of the G-7 joint communique.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, Washington lawmakers from both sides of the aisle raised concerns about what came out of President Trump's meeting with the leader of North Korea.

    This evening, I spoke with two key members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    And I started by asking Republican Senator James Risch if the U.S. can count on North Korea to fulfill its commitment.

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Well, I think it's a little early to say that.

    But, look, Judy, everything that's happened so far is very positive. It's going in the right direction; 120 days ago, we were headed down a very, very different path.

    And this president needs to be given credit for how he's been able to turn this thing around. Certainly, Kim Jong Un made a choice that was a much better choice for him than the choices he had been making.

    But there is work to be done yet. We know how to do this. We have done a number of them, and I think that the group at the State Department, at the White House are — they are fully engaged already. They're drilling down into the details that need to be hammered out.

    And I'm very comfortable with the way this thing is going. And I — and the other good thing about this is, is when we did the — or not when we — when President Obama did the Iran agreement, we were left out of it. We were dismissed. They were — they treated us very dismissively.

    And, as a result of that, it never got a vote in the Senate. It wasn't submitted for a vote in the Senate, and we all know how it ended. It wasn't good.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, is the Senate — is the Congress definitely going to be involved in somehow signing off on this before it's all over?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Right.

    I have talked to the president, the vice president, the secretary of state on this very issue. All three of them have told me independently that it is their intent to put this in such a form that it can be submitted, as the founding fathers wanted to have done, as a treaty to the United States Senate, and submitted for a vote in the United States Senate.

    They're not pushing back on that. That's the direction they want to go. Look, it's good for us and it's good for people on the other side of the agreement, because then you have a binding agreement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when President Trump says that Chairman Kim, I think in his words, is denuking the whole place, he said it's going to start very quickly, are you confident of that?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Well, look, this remains to be seen.

    We have a history that is not good along similar terms. But, this time, they have not said that in response to a suggestion that they would get something for it. So they're going a different direction.

    This whole thing, the ball was in Kim Jong Un's court, and he took it, and he is the one that started this thing down the path. So, look, they know what they have to do. We have been down this road with them before. The international community has told them what they have got to do.

    And they are saying that that's what they're going to do. Saying it is one thing. We're going to know very quickly, and the president has said that he will know very quickly whether or not they can make this happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One thing the president has said already is that what he calls war games, joint military exercises with South Korea, are going to end for now.

    There's a little bit of confusion about that. Vice President Pence talked about it today at the Senate. But do you think it's a good idea? The president said today he's wanted all along for these exercises to stop.

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Yes, I have talked to both the president and the vice president about this today.

    And I think this is going to take some more nuancing. When he said war games, I don't think he meant that all military exercises with the South would be ended. But this is going to be a matter that they're going to refine during the negotiations.

    And we need to give the people who are negotiating this space to get where we all want to be on this. So, yes, you know, I know there's a lot of discussion about statements that were made on this side or that side. Let's all take a deep breath and say a prayer that we're going to get to where we need to be with this thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two other quick things, Senator.

    Are you comfortable with the fact that human rights came up only briefly, tangentially in these talks?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Look, we're negotiating right now on a matter that is of a serious nature to the entire world.

    America has always been about human rights. We will always be about human rights. We lead by example. Having said that, we also talk with allies and enemies alike about this. But we do business with countries who I'm not and most people aren't satisfied with on human rights issues.

    This is something that is going to be gotten to, I'm sure, at some point down the road. But, look, you got to walk before you run. And, right now, the very sensitive, important matter of denuclearization is what's on the table that we're talking about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, different topic. Are you comfortable with the president pulling the U.S. out of the joint G7 communique, being very critical of Canada, its leaders, the other members of the G7? Is that what you think was the right move?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Well, the president had good reasons for what he did.

    And he is a tough negotiator, as you know. And he is not happy with the way we have been treated with a lot of our negotiations. And I think the frustration is boiling over.

    But, look, this isn't a final thing. This is not an ongoing thing. The people that he's talking to at G7, these are friends of ours. They're allies of ours.

    Friends and allies and even siblings have disagreements from time to time. And whenever you are talking about money, which is what you're talking about when you're talking about trade, it is always a difficult family discussion to have. And that's what was going on there. These are going to be ongoing. We will get through this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He's more critical of them, though, than he is of Chairman Kim.

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Well, that's a separate issue on the nuclear vs. the financial matters.

    But he is very frustrated with the way we have been treated as far as trade agreements in the past, and he's trying to do something about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Jim Risch, we thank you very much.

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Judy, thank you very having me.

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