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US lawmakers cautious in praising North Korea summit

US lawmakers from both major parties expressed cautious optimism about the outcome of the  summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Many Democrats and Republicans emphasized there is a "long road to go" before the meeting can be viewed as progress in the right direction.

As the day of meetings between the two presidents and members of their senior staffs unfolded and they headed home, here’s how U.S. lawmakers reacted:

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise described positive steps from the meeting, such as Kim saying he’s willing to take steps toward denuclearization.

Scalise has concerns about whether, after years of saber rattling, denuclearization will actually happen, he said early Tuesday. But he noted that the “war games” with South Korea that Trump said he will end, will continue if the North Korean leader doesn’t follow through on his commitments.

Many lawmakers from both parties, while unready to declare the summit a diplomatic victory or defeat, remained skeptical the U.S. could successfully negotiate a deal toward peace with Kim — but are letting the process play out.

Sen. Lindsey Graham does not have an issue with halting joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea while discussions with North Korea continue.

But the South Carolina Republican said Trump would face opposition to any move to withdraw American forces from South Korea.

“I am willing to do a lot of things to get [Kim] to give up their nuclear weapons and end their missile program. You know, he can have a membership at Trump National,” Graham said on CBS, referring to Trump’s golf course. “I really don’t care how generous we are as long as we don’t go too far when it comes to our troop presence. At the end of the day, this is our last best chance to end this conflict without a war.”

“He can come to the White House as long as he gives up his nuclear program, gives up his missile program. Sen. [Charles E.] Schumer laid out what a good deal would look like,” Graham said. “I’m a realist. I’m not trying to bring democracy to North Korea. I’m not trying to unify South Korea and North Korea.”

Conservative House Republicans were unrepentant in their praise for the president for engaging with North Korea, a sharp reversal from many of their views on similar negotiations between President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran.

The overall Republican message to Trump was clear: Verifying Kim's commitment to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula is a must. While Trump told ABC News on Tuesday, "I think he trusts me, and I trust him," Republicans were skeptical.

"He's trying to be cordial, but I am a Ronald Reagan guy -- 'trust but verify,'" said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
"I think it's important that we don't lose sight of the fact that Kim Jong Un is a butcher and he is a butcher of his own people," said Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican. "Trying to reason with someone like that, is like trying to hand feed a shark. Doesn't mean you can't do it, but you've got to do it very, very carefully."

In the joint statement released by the US and North Korea, Kim said he "reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." But Republican senators said they were skeptical of Kim's promises, given North Korea's track record in past negotiations.

"I hope that he gives up his nuclear weapons in a verifiable way and it all works out," said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican. "And the President has gone down that road and should be given a chance to succeed but I also think it's important for us to be cautious about what such a deal would be. It has to be real."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also focused on the need for verifying that North Korea would give up its nukes.
"The next steps in negotiation will test whether we can get to verifiable deal which enhances the security of Northeast Asia, our allies, and of course the United States," McConnell said.

A large contingent of Democrats criticized the president and his staff for tentatively granting a number of concessions to the North Koreans, including a pause on military exercises in South Korea and even meeting with Kim in the first place to lend his leadership legitimacy on the international stage.

"I have to be honest with you, this is the weakest statement I have ever seen come out of any engagement with North Korea, much less at the highest ranking of the President of the United States meeting with Kim Jong Un," said New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the meeting was "a welcome improvement" to "name-calling and saber-rattling," but argued that details coming out of the summit were lacking.

"It's imperative that we actually get action here, not just photo ops," Schumer said. "If the United States is unable to win concrete, lasting concessions from North Korea, the meeting alone will be a victory for Kim Jong Un and a defeat for President Trump."

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