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Sen. Gardner Backs Trump's Decision To Cancel North Korea Talks

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A trail of broken promises - that's how the White House described North Korea's approach in negotiations with the U.S. over the nuclear summit which has now been canceled. President Trump, although, did tweet this morning he would consider going ahead with the summit - even on the original date. But his announcement yesterday that he was calling off the talks took America's allies by surprise, especially South Korea. South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, said he was, quote, "very perplexed" by the decision. North Korean officials have responded with mixed messages, calling the announcement extremely regrettable but said the country would still welcome talks with American officials at any time.

So are we back to square one when it comes to the U.S. efforts to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program? Earlier this morning, I spoke with Senator Cory Gardner. He's a Republican from Colorado who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for being here.

CORY GARDNER: Good morning, Rachel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: You said yesterday, this was the right call by the president to cancel the summit. Why?

GARDNER: We've known all along that if there was any sense that Kim Jong Un was not going to be willing to discuss denuclearization - the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of his regime - that this meeting wouldn't occur. And I think that's exactly what we saw in the days leading up to the summit, Kim Jong Un walking away from that promise. And that's something that we have to have is, ultimately, getting back to that goal of denuclearization.

MARTIN: Was it naive to call it in the first place?

GARDNER: You know, I think we have to be wary of the partisans over the past several - you know, 24 hours who have said, hey, a year - you know, seven months ago, they didn't like the summit. Then all of a sudden, they're upset that the summit's been canceled. What we need now is to continue exerting maximum pressure on North Korea, bring them back to the negotiating table and make it clear that we're not doing this summit to have a briefing about, you know, proportional responses or to allow partial denuclearization. No, this is about complete denuclearization.

MARTIN: The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was up on the Hill yesterday giving a pretty sober assessment of North Korea's nuclear capabilities. I want to play a little bit of an exchange he had with ranking member Senator Robert Menendez. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: Kim Jong Un today possesses the most robust nuclear program he has ever had.

BOB MENENDEZ: And as a result of canceling the summit, he still possesses them.

MARTIN: Is there a concern that canceling the summit does leave the North in a stronger position here?

GARDNER: Well, I think the summit - again, like I said, we've known that if there's any scintilla that Kim Jong Un would back away from his denuclearization commitment, it wouldn't be held. So what the danger is, of course, is that Kim Jong Un decides to completely break his promise. And that's been the danger of his father and his grandfather. They've been down this road multiple times - made promises, broke those promises. That's the North Korea that we know.

What we're trying to do with our pressure is to get to a new era of relationships with North Korea where they do follow through on their commitments and they are welcomed back to the global community.

MARTIN: I want to talk about what comes next in just a moment. But I also want to address South Korea's response to this because they were caught off guard. They didn't know this was coming down the pike. The South Korean president was forced to call an emergency Cabinet meeting around midnight in Seoul, trying to wrap his head around all this. Are you concerned that the way this was handled undermines America's reputation as a reliable ally in the region?

GARDNER: I think there always will be a great relationship between the United States and South Korea. This alliance is stronger than it's ever been. There's never any daylight between it. And that has to be the way it goes forward. That can't change at all. The relationship between the U.S. - between South Korea and Japan, that trilateral relationship, is so critically important to this. And so President Moon was just in Washington in the past couple of days. I know President Trump will be talking to him soon if that has not happened already yesterday. So I think this is a temporary...

MARTIN: Do you think they should have been given a heads-up?

GARDNER: I think the United States has to act according to the U.S.'s best interests. And we have to make sure that we continue our work with South Korea in the alliance to achieve our mutual goals, and that's denuclearization.

MARTIN: So what now? You talk about pressure. What tactically is the next step?

GARDNER: So we continue to double down on the strategy of maximum pressure that we have pursued, which has brought them to the table and has made China act better than they ever have before as it relates to North Korea. So I've called for a complete economic embargo on North Korea, cutting off oil supplies, petroleum supplies, furthering the economic and diplomatic isolation of the regime. We have...

MARTIN: Does China support that?

GARDNER: There is support for that. We just - in fact, we have it out of committee. And now we just need to get it out of the Senate. Now, does China support it?

MARTIN: Right.

GARDNER: I think that's the great question. China has done more than they have in the past, but they've still done less than they should. And so if you look at the behavior of China over the last three weeks, some would point to that as a reason that Kim Jong Un may have changed his rhetoric over the past couple of weeks. Did China come to North Korea and say - you know, come back into the nest; we're going to soften a little bit approach on the sanctions and make it easier for you to push back a little on the United States? That's a big question that we don't have answered yet.

MARTIN: What about the other countries in the region? I mean, China isn't the only country with favorable trade policies towards North Korea. Is the U.S. pressure going to be applied to other countries in the Pacific?

GARDNER: Globally - it must be applied globally. And that's why we've, over the past several months, pushed for embassies to close in Pyongyang. We've had success at doing that. That's why we've sanctioned businesses in Singapore and around the Pacific who are still enabling North Korean businesses in violation of our sanctions. And so whether it's Chinese business or others, we have to do more.

MARTIN: Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. Thanks for your time this morning, Senator.

GARDNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.