CAPITOL HILL - U.S. senators of both parties endorsed President Donald Trump’s decision to cut short a summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un if no nuclear accord acceptable to the United States was on the table.
“No deal is better than a bad deal,” West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin told reporters in Washington Thursday.
“Part of the art of the deal is knowing when to walk away,” Republican Mike Rounds of South Dakota said on Capitol Hill. “I’m glad he [Trump] exercised it that way and had the wherewithal to say, ‘Even though I want a deal, this is not the right time.’”
The second encounter between Trump and Kim, held in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, ended abruptly Thursday, reportedly amid an impasse over the pace and timing of sanctions relief for North Korea relative to Pyongyang’s timeline for denuclearization.
“If the president and the team there did not think we were likely to get something good, then it’s good that we didn’t give up anything,” Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine said.
At the same time, U.S. senators differed in their assessments of the Trump administration’s handling of North Korea, a country whose nuclear program has bedeviled U.S. administrations for decades.
“I certainly don’t want any president to sign off on a bad deal, but usually enough homework is done in advance to anticipate, if not predict, the outcome — in this case, apparently, that wasn’t done,” the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, told VOA.
“Diplomacy by narcissism doesn’t work,” Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono said. “I don’t think the president is capable of forcing any kind of a deal on Kim Jong Un. I think Kim is very clear on what he wants — he wants our troops out of the DMZ [Korean Demilitarized Zone].”
By contrast, Republicans praised Trump’s overall effort.
“The president should be commended for his personal commitment to persuading Kim Jong Un to pursue a different path,” Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said. “It was smart to bring Kim Jong Un to Singapore [for the first summit last year] and to Vietnam to expose the North Korean delegation to the kind of economic prosperity that could be possible if he were to choose a new path.”
“I think anytime you’re talking rather than fighting with one another, there’s an opportunity to perhaps make things better,” Senator Rounds said. “As [former president] Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘Trust but verify.’ And I’m very pleased to see this president follow along that same path.”
Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden disputed any comparison between Reagan and Trump.
“Ronald Reagan, though I disagreed often [with him], had real principles — you don’t see that with these [Trump administration] folks,” Wyden told VOA. “You didn’t get the sense that the administration went in there [the Hanoi summit] with a clear plan. It was kind of vintage Trump. He was going to wing it [improvise], and it was just a disappointing result all around.”
Analysts also weighed in.
“Trump correctly emphasized principles and long-time allies over a premature peace declaration and his new-found relationship with Kim Jong Un,” Korean affairs researcher Bruce Klingner of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation said. “While details remain unclear, it appeared North Korea offered only its Yongbyon nuclear facility in return for removal of all sanctions. While tempting, a bad deal is indeed worse than no deal.”
“It could have been worse,” Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Robert Manning said. “And it also illustrates the perils of top-down diplomacy.”
Manning said the summit would have yielded better results if U.S. and North Korean negotiators had hammered out the framework of an agreement ahead of the encounter.
VOA's Korean Service and Mandarin service also contributed to this report