Rep. Ro Khanna: If U.S.-North Korea Summit Happened Under Obama, Democrats Would Be Cheering

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As President Trump prepared for his historic summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top Democrats penned a letter last week threatening to maintain or even strengthen sanctions against North Korea if Trump did not ensure that the country completely dismantle all of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The lawmakers wrote, “Any deal that explicitly or implicitly gives North Korea sanctions relief for anything other than the verifiable performance of its obligations to dismantle its nuclear and missile arsenal is a bad deal.” Progressives have blasted the letter for its hardline stance. Fifteen Democratic congressmembers, including Ro Khanna of California, penned a letter to President Trump, writing, “diplomacy is the only path to resolve the tensions between our countries.” In Washington, D.C., we are joined by Rep. Ro Khanna.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read from a letter issued by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top Democrats last week, threatening to maintain or even strengthen sanctions against North Korea if President Trump doesn’t ensure the country completely dismantles all its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The letter reads, quote, “Sanctions relief by the U.S. and our allies should be dependent on dismantlement and removal of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Any deal that explicitly or implicitly gives North Korea sanctions relief for anything other than the verifiable performance of its obligations to dismantle its nuclear and missile arsenal is a bad deal,” Schumer wrote.

But progressives have blasted the letter for its hardline stance. Fifteen Democratic congressmembers, including California Congressmember Ro Khanna, penned a letter to President Trump, writing, “diplomacy is the only path to resolve the tensions between our countries.” Congressmember Ro Khanna joins us now from Washington, D.C.

Congressmember Khanna, welcome to Democracy Now! Your response to what’s happened today in Singapore and to your own party? And do you think it will try to—it will oppose what President Trump is doing here?

REP. RO KHANNA: I agree with Christine and Professor Cumings: This is a very constructive step. Imagine if it weren’t Donald Trump there, but if it were Barack Obama there having that kind of breakthrough. I think there would be a reaction from almost every progressive Democrat cheering that on. And Professor Cumings is right. Barack Obama didn’t have President Moon as a partner to achieve this. President Moon has really set the foundation for engagement. And Donald Trump, to his credit, in this instance, has taken that opportunity.

My disagreement with Senator Schumer in that letter is that’s basically parroting the talking points of John Bolton, saying that we should not engage in any diplomacy or make any concessions without complete denuclearization. That’s just not realistic. A far more realistic framework is what Bill Perry has advocated in the 1990s and worked on, which is an incremental approach, where we need to look at our joint military exercises, as the president has, where we need to ask for the cessation of testing, and make concessions on an incremental basis. And that’s what I think has begun with this process.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And is your sense that, within the Democratic Party, that this debate will expand between this hawkish view of how to deal with negotiations with North Korea versus those in the Democratic Party that see, as you do, the importance of pursuing diplomacy?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, my view is, I think the American people are going to view this as a constructive step and a success. And so I think the Democrats risk looking like we’re being excessively partisan by attacking the president from the right. So I’m hopeful that more and more Democrats will speak out. It’s fine to criticize the president on saying he could have been more prepared, he could have had more experts in the room, there should have been greater preparation before his summit. No one is saying that Donald Trump has handled this perfectly. And would I rather have Barack Obama been the representative for the United States, or Bill Clinton? Absolutely. Would I rather Bill Perry had been accompanying the president than Mike Pompeo and John Bolton? Yes. But the reality is, this is the leadership, and Democrats are going to have to basically choose: Do we want to encourage John Bolton and a neoconservative view, or do we want to encourage the president’s instincts to follow what George Shultz and Bill Perry have recommended, a framework towards negotiation and peace, and criticize it where we don’t think it’s perfect? I think I’m quite confident that most Democrats, at least in the House, will choose the engagement approach.

AMY GOODMAN: South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham responded to the letter penned by Senator Schumer and other top Democrats by asking them to agree to authorize military force against North Korea. Here’s Graham speaking on NBC—on ABC.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: [I wish they had] sent such a deal—a letter to President Obama regarding the Iranian nuclear efforts, but I embrace this letter. It is a very tough thing to accomplish. But here’s what I would say to my Democratic colleagues: I appreciate you telling the president what a good deal would look like, but the country needs you to back the president up to get that deal. So here’s the question for my Democratic colleagues: If diplomacy fails, will you support my efforts to authorize the use of military force, as a last resort, to convince North Korea and China things are going to be different this time? A bipartisan AUMF would really make that letter much more credible. And if diplomacy fails, as a last result, Democrats and Republicans need to put the military option on the table, or we’ll never get a good deal.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Bruce Cumings, can you respond to the significance of what he is suggesting?

BRUCE CUMINGS: Well, I mean, he seems to think he’s a cutout for the hardliners in the Trump administration, like John Bolton. But to take this particular moment, when, for the first time in a long time, there’s a thaw between Pyongyang and Washington, and to talk about going to war if this thaw doesn’t work is just reprehensible. First of all, there isn’t any military solution on the Korean Peninsula. We should have learned that in 1953, when we were fought to a standstill by rough peasant armies. And it certainly isn’t today, almost 70 years later, when North Korea has built itself into a basically impregnable fortress, with 15,000 underground facilities of a national security nature, all kinds of conventional weapons trained on Seoul, not to mention a complete nuclear and ICBM inventory, tested last fall. So, I don’t know really what he’s talking about. I suppose he wants to come off as a hardliner, but it’s very irresponsible at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to President Trump, speaking at his news conference today about the future of North Korea.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As an example, they have great beaches. You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? So I said, “Boy, look at that beach. Wouldn’t that make a great condo behind?” And I explain. I said, “You know, instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world right there.” Think of it from a real estate perspective. You have South Korea, you have China, and they own the land in the middle. How bad is that, right? It’s great.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Christine Ahn, what about President Trump maybe building a hotel in North Korea?

CHRISTINE AHN: Well, I’d say that’s a little too soon. But I would say that, in this moment, what is going to be the most important thing to watch is the relations between Moon and Kim. We know that there is already discussion about linking the rails that were built during the Sunshine Policy era between North and South Korea. We know that South Korean small businesses and capitalists are hoping to relieve some of the sanctions to have investments in North Korea. But the most important, you know, moment is the inter-Korean progress, and that’s going to be the greatest assurance that there won’t be a new Korean War, that the Lindsey Grahams won’t have their moment, in this moment where peace is in the air. And I think it was great that Trump said in his press conference that, you know, whatever peace agreement is negotiated will include South Korea and China. This is obviously conflict that would devastate not just the Korean Peninsula, but the entire region. So, peace is in the air, and we have a lot of work to do, especially as a peace movement in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you all for being with us, Christine Ahn, founder of Women Cross DMZ; professor Bruce Cumings of University of Chicago; and Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna. We’ll do Part 2 with Congressmember Khanna about Yemen and the possibility the U.S. will expand and support the expanded war in Yemen.

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