SEOUL - Democrats in a U.S. Congressional delegation visiting South Korea Tuesday strongly rebuked President Donald Trump’s recent threatening rhetoric about using military force against North Korea.
“President Trump’s bluster is counter productive, is leading to escalation of tensions here on the Korean Peninsula,” Senator Edward Markey from Massachusetts, the senior Democrat on the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee’s East Asia Subcommittee, said in Seoul.
Markey is leading a bipartisan delegation visit to Japan, South Korea and China this week to discuss the growing North Korean nuclear and long-range ballistic missile threat. The congressional delegation also included Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Chris Van Hollen (Maryland), Representative Carolyn Maloney (New York), as well as Republican representative Ann Wagner (Missouri).
The Trump administration’s emphasis on exercising a possible military option to prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear inter-continental ballistic missile has raised concerns in the region that the United States might initiate a catastrophic conflict on the Korean Peninsula that could kill millions of people living near the border region of South Korea in a matter of days.
Sen. Markey said he recently introduced legislation to restrict the president from ordering a nuclear strike against any country without approval from Congress, unless the United States is attacked first.
“There is a responsibility for the Congress to declare war. In many instances that authority has been abdicated. But in this issue, whether or not the United States would start a nuclear war, I think it is absolutely imperative that there be a vote of the House [of Representatives] and Senate,” he said.
The Republican-led Congress recently passed legislation restricting the Republican president from suspending sanctions on Russia. The president has advocated for improving relations with Moscow, but Congress instead acted to punish Russia for allegedly interfering in the 2016 election to help Trump win.
However Rep. Wagner, the sole Republican member of the congressional delegation, indicated Markey’s legislation would not likely find support with the Republican majority in Congress.
“I would not begin to say where the House of Representatives and it’s strong Republican majority would come down on dictating to the president of the United States and the commander-in-chief what he may or may not do when it comes to threats to the homeland,” she said.
The Republican congresswoman also noted that Trump’s blunt “fire and fury” and “locked and loaded” warnings, that the U.S. military is prepared to respond to any attack, did result in Kim Jong Un backing down from his threat to fire multiple intermediate range ballistic missiles toward the U.S. territory of Guam.
The delegation did fully endorse South Korean President Moon Jae-in's approach to try to reduce tension through dialogue and engagement, while stepping up economic sanctions to pressure the Kim government to enter into denuclearization talks.
Moon said he recently received assurances from the Trump administration that no military action would be taken on the Korean Peninsula without his government’s consent. The South Korean leader stressed the catastrophic consequences of military actions when he met with the delegation.
“I think we are united in making the point that there is not a viable military pre-emptive option,” said Sen. Merkley.
The group of lawmakers also advocated for imposing an oil embargo of North Korea, and pressuring China to strictly enforce U.N. measures already in place, such as restricting the country’s multi-million-dollar coal trade, as the primary means to force the Kim government to give up its nuclear weapons.
At the same time Representative Maloney, after meeting with President Moon, said she supports his plan to expand economic incentive programs with the impoverished North that include re-opening the Kaseong Industrial Complex.
“He mentioned that it was a humanitarian thing, whether or not he would advocate it and move it forward, he indicated he had reached out for talks and there hasn’t been a response back, to my knowledge or what he shared with us, from North Korea,” said Maloney.
Restarting the jointly run economic venture, some analysts argue, would violate U.N. sanctions. The Kaseong complex had employed thousands of North Korean workers in South Korean-run factories, but was shut down following a 2016 North Korean nuclear test on the argument that money intended for workers was being diverted to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missiles programs.
Youmi Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.