Kim Jong Un

Xinhua/Sipa USA

Trump Says 'Possible Progress' In North Korea Talks

March 06, 2018 - 11:03 am

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- South Korea announced Tuesday that North Korea has pledged to halt tests of nuclear weapons and missiles if the U.S. agrees to sit down for talks on denuclearization and normalizing relations.

President Donald Trump said it may be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  He told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott that there is cause to be optimistic – though skeptical.

Listen to the full interview with Menendez:

“I think that President Moon’s efforts, backed up by the leverage of additional economic and military pressure, have demonstrated that there may be a narrow diplomatic pathway forward for peace, stability, and a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, and I think it’s time to fully test North Korea’s intentions in order to avoid a nuclear disaster, and so you know, I think we have to proceed cautiously,” Menendez said. “I have few illusions about the regime in North Korea given the long track record of deceitful negotiations.”

But Menendez said he hoped President Trump would be “strategic enough to utilize this current opening by fully engaging the United States in clear-eyed and tough-minded constructive diplomacy,” noting that such an approach is contrary to Trump’s typical handling of the North Korea issue.

“I think it’s time for some serious, hardnosed diplomatic engagement to see if there is a pathway forward, and to test North Korea’s real intentions,” Menendez said.

National Director of Intelligence Dan Coats has expressed skepticism about North Korean intentions. Quoted in published reports at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Coats said: Maybe this is a breakthrough. I seriously doubt it. As I said, hope springs eternal.”

Menendez said there is indeed reason to be skeptical, but that is not a reason to be dismissive of the possibilities.

"I think we have to go in wide-eyed, you know, but it would be foolish for the United States not to test the proposition as to whether or not North Korea is serious about denuclearizing, and take advantage of the opportunity, and show the world that in fact we are engaged, and are willing to be engaged, in some serious, hardnosed diplomacy – if North Korea is truly sincere about its intentions,” he said.

Menendez said North Korea’s intentions can be exposed in “relatively short order.”

“Either we will see that North Korea has come to a conclusion that it is not sustainable for itself to continue down this path, or we can see whether it’s being deceitful,” Menendez said.

Either way, he said, the U.S. would benefit – particularly as the U.S. is trying to ratchet up international sanctions, urge China to increase pressure on North Korea, and get the world engaged in a unified and multilateral effort against North Korea.

Menendez said President Moon Jae-In of South Korea has tried to appeal to North Korea’s better efforts, while the U.S. Congress has pursued sanctions and pressured China to come down on the North.

“To the extent that those things have taken place, those are good things. But there’s a lot more that we could do and have not done, and our challenge here is that our window is closing, and so we need to test all the propositions as we also pursue all the pathways of pressure to get the North Koreans not only to a table, but more importantly to end their march toward a nuclear weapon,” Menendez said.

He said it is too early to tell whether normalization of U.S. relations with North Korea is in the future.

“We first have to make sure that we see what the intentions are and what the commitments would be, and how they would be internationally supervised, and make sure that they are conformed with. Then if we see that there is actually denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, then we can go forth from there,” Menendez said. “But it’s premature to suggest that we’re going to reward North Korea with a diplomatic recognition before they do any of the things that the international community would expect them to do in terms of observing the rule of law and the international order.”

Meanwhile, the bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal in Seoul, Jonathan Cheng, tells WCBS that most people are surprised at the pace of how quickly things have worked out.

"If you go back just a few months we were worried about North Korea potentially lobbing a missile at Guam or into the Pacific Ocean maybe even at California. There were concerns that they would crash the party at the Olympics and try to disrupt things," Cheng said. "There were all sorts of concerns that perhaps President Donald Trump would launch a preemptive strike first and now suddenly you have an outbreak of good vibes between the two sides."

"You have Kim Jong-un basically telling the U.S. that he's willing to talk about giving up his nuclear weapons and willing to talk about normalizing relations, setting up an embassy in Washington and even having a U.S. embassy in Pyongyang," Cheng said.

The question is what is the level of trust in these reports?

"There have been two previous inter-Korean summits, there have been several deals between Washington and Pyongyang to freeze North Korea's nuclear program. Obviously none of those have worked in the long run because here we are and yet of course at that moment there's always a sense of euphoria because there's always a sense of 'this time is different.' And this time could be different, you could argue, because you have Kim Jong-un this is the first time that he is now running the show, he's a different man than his father. You can argue that sanctions perhaps are having a tougher squeeze on North Korea than ever before. Donald Trump is certainly a very unprecedented U.S. president. So you have all sorts of new ingredients in the air and whether or not this amounts to something different is obviously something that nobody can know."

Listen to the full interview with Cheng: