Sen. Jim Risch, a leading Senate voice on U.S.-Korean affairs, said Friday he was confident President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un will meet in an effort to end reclusive nation’s nuclear weapons program.
Risch, R-Idaho, in line to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee if Republicans control the Senate next year, said “nobody has walked back from the original objectives that are on the table” in de-nuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
“Everybody needs to step back, take a deep breath in this, and give the space for these two leaders to get together and try to make an agreement,” Risch said. “This is a transaction that’s going to be very, very complex. It’s going to take lots and lots of negotiation.”
The Idaho lawmaker’s optimism is based on recent meetings with administration officials. He said he had lunch with Trump on Monday, dinner with him last week, and meetings and conversations with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.
“I can tell you from a general, overall, 30,000-foot level, that all these people are singing of the same music, and it’s led by the president and all these people work for the president of the United States,” Risch said. “He realizes that if this doesn’t work that the next road that’s chosen has a very, very bad ending to it.”
An historic meeting between Trump and Kim was scheduled for June 12 in Singapore until Trump announced Thursday that he was pulling out of the summit, citing “tremendous anger and hostility” from North Korea in statements.
North Korea, in a statement, lashed out at the Trump administration Thursday, calling Pence a “political dummy” for suggesting that North Korea could end up like Libya if Kim doesn't make a nuclear deal.
Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi gave up his nuclear ambitions in 2003 in exchange for economic sanctions relief. He was beaten and killed by Libyan rebels in 2011.
Trump appeared to reverse himself on the summit Friday following a more conciliatory statement from North Korea Thursday night. The president told reporters that administration and North Korean officials have resumed talking and that the meeting between the two leaders may occur, even as early as the original June 12 date.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “It could even be the 12th. “We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it. We’ll see what happens.”
Risch told McClatchy he was confident that the two leaders will meet because he views the saber-rattling rhetoric of the past few days and the on-again, off-again drama surrounding the summit as all parts of diplomacy in action.
“These things are delicate and complex, and you’re going to have speed bumps, and steps forward, and steps backwards,” he said. “I’m very optimistic about this in the long run. People need to have patience. This is moving down the right road. It is not moving down the wrong road.”
Risch was present at the start of negotiations between the administration and North Korea. He was part of the official U.S. delegation that traveled to Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February for the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
North and South Korea marched under a unified flag in the opening and closing ceremonies and competed as a unified team in women’s ice hockey, moves that South Korean President Moon Jae-in hoped would lead to more substantive talks on whether Kim would abandon his nuclear ambitions.
While Risch and other members of the Ivanka Trump-led delegation watched the Feb. 25 closing ceremony, their cell phones buzzed with a message from South Korean officials indicating that the North wanted to talk.
Risch supported the summit idea but thought that a June 12 date was too soon. Now he hopes cooler heads prevail and a meeting occurs.
“This can get done, and it needs to be done,” he said. “The stakes here are incredibly high.”