Sen. Cory Gardner: North Korea is still a threat – Verifiable, irreversible denuclearization must be our goal

With the recent announcement of a second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, the goal of any discussions with North Korea should remain the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) of the Korean Peninsula.

The Trump administration’s own 2019 Missile Defense Review released this week states that North Korea “continues to pose an extraordinary threat and the United States must remain vigilant.” It furthermore states: “Over the past decade, North Korea accelerated its efforts to field missiles capable of threatening deployed U.S. forces, allies, and partners in the region.”

Make no mistake about it: North Korea still remains a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the American people. So far, no concrete action toward CVID has taken place; decommissioning already destroyed or obsolete facilities does not count. Without concrete steps toward CVID, the only thing Kim Jong Un appears to be committed to is the regime-standard ploy of delay and non-compliance.

IF NORTH KOREA WON'T DENUCLEARIZE, HERE'S WHAT THE US SHOULD DO

In February 2016, President Obama signed into law my North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act (NKSPEA), which finally put an end to the failed policy of “strategic patience” and set the course for the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure” toward North Korea. Through NKSPEA, U.S. law is crystal clear that the goal of our policy toward North Korea should be the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the North Korean regime.

The bill was the first standalone legislation to mandate sanctions against North Korea and its enablers for proliferation, human rights, and cybersecurity violations. Since the passage of NKSPEA, U.S. sanctions against North Korea have increased by nearly three-fold, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Furthermore, Section 402 of NKSPEA states that there will be no sanctions relief for North Korea until there is “significant progress toward completely, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantling all of its nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons programs, including all programs for the development of systems designed in whole or in part for the delivery of such weapons.”

The administration should make clear to Pyongyang that the only way we will dismantle the U.S. and international sanctions regime is when Pyongyang completely dismantles every single nut and bolt of its illicit weapons programs – not a minute earlier. 

Now that we have painstakingly built the sanctions leverage and brought Pyongyang to the negotiating table, it would be misguided to let up on the pressure valve. Because effective sanctions require constant action and enforcement, or otherwise they are no more than words on paper.

While I welcome robust bilateral and multilateral diplomatic efforts, we need to continue our strategy of maximum pressure and impose further sanctions on North Korea, such as those outlined in my bipartisan LEED Act, which would impose a complete economic embargo against North Korea and its enablers around the globe. Exclusion from the center of the world’s financial system is a penalty that most businesses can ill-afford to bear.

More recently, my Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 31, 2018, unequivocally reaffirms that “it is the policy of the United States that the objective of negotiations with respect to the nuclear and ballistic missile programs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea be the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of such programs.”

The administration should make clear to Pyongyang that the only way we will dismantle the U.S. and international sanctions regime is when Pyongyang completely dismantles every single nut and bolt of its illicit weapons programs – not a minute earlier.

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The Trump administration must not repeat mistakes of the past and rush into a bad deal, as President Obama did with Iran in 2015. Any deal the administration negotiates with North Korea must not only meet the full CVID standard but must also be submitted as a treaty to Congress, subject to two-thirds approval in the Senate. Secretary Mike Pompeo has made this promise publicly and I intend to hold him to that promise.

Let us also not forget that North Korea remains the world’s leading human rights abuser, with an estimated 100,000 people still languishing in political concentration camps. There can be no moral equivalency between brutal dictatorships and free societies that seek to stop their abuses. We must always strive to befriend the oppressed, but never the oppressor. I urge the Trump administration to keep this in mind, as it fetes its North Korean visitors today.