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Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher Discusses U.S. Relations With North Korea After Summit


Reactions to the U.S.-North Korea summit are not dividing evenly along party lines. We're going to hear now from a Republican lawmaker who has some concerns about the agreement that President Trump signed with Kim Jong Un. Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin is a former Marine, and he's on the House Armed Services Committee. Welcome to the program.

MIKE GALLAGHER: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

SHAPIRO: One of your big concerns is President Trump's willingness to end joint military exercises with South Korea. Why do you think that's the wrong choice?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think it's - we're in a situation where we should be demanding concessions up front from the North Koreans, who are of course in violation of international law. They're the ones who are abusing their own citizens. And prior to us making any concessions, we need to see proof from the Kim regime that they are serious. I think the last three decades of history should give all of us great skepticism. Every time the North Koreans have agreed to anything, they've cheated on that agreement.

SHAPIRO: Is it clear to you what exactly has been canceled, which military exercises are on and which are off?

GALLAGHER: My understanding it's the military exercise that was scheduled for March of next year. So certainly, you know, if we have evidence that Kim is cheating or is not serious, that's an easily reversible concession. That being said, I do think there's still some lingering confusion as to exactly what was agreed to and what wasn't agreed to.

And that's why it's imperative for the administration, for Secretary Pompeo and others to come and engage with Congress so we can actually get a full account of what all was included not only in the joint statement that was released, but were there any other understandings or side agreements that were agreed to? So let's have that debate. And I certainly want to work closely with them to bring this thing to a positive conclusion.

SHAPIRO: Members of the administration and Trump supporters say, give it time. This is the beginning, not the end of the process. Are you confident that negotiators can get North Korea to make the kinds of concessions you're describing?

GALLAGHER: So the president has a great team that I think will do their best to turn this sort of vague commitment into concrete action. However, I guess I'm concerned that any protracted negotiation will become an end in and of itself. But also, that will redound to not only North Korea's advantage but also China's advantage because almost by definition it means that we are slowing down on the policy of maximum pressure. In the press conference afterwards, the president alluded to the fact that China may already be violating the sanctions.

If that's the case, I think we should aggressively try to put pressure on the Chinese. We should be imposing more secondary sanctions on Chinese banks and businesses that are doing business with North Korea. And I think it's important for the administration to remember that they have options, that if they determine that Kim is not serious, they can walk away from the table and begin to impose more pressure.

SHAPIRO: You also tweeted, I recognize that sometimes we have to talk to some unsavory people, but any future negotiations should minimize pageantry and maximize focus on Kim Jong Un's abysmal human rights record. What would that look like? We know what the pageantry looks like.

GALLAGHER: Sure. Well, I actually think it would look a lot like what the president talked about when he gave a speech last year in South Korea which I thought was quite good. And he just talked about the disparity between South Korea and North Korea and the way in which Kim Jong Un really terrorizes his people. And even certain things that the president has talked about with the death of Otto Warmbier, this...

SHAPIRO: This is the American who died shortly after being released from North Korean custody.

GALLAGHER: But the fact remains he was killed by the Kim regime, if we're being blunt about it. And that should serve as a reminder of who exactly it is we're dealing with on the other side of the equation. And just as President Reagan used human rights concerns to increase pressure on the Soviets to get concessions when it came to arms control, we should use that as well.

Now, I understand that we're pursuing something that may be more important in the short term, which is the dismantlement of their nuclear program. And I hope the administration is successful. But our best chance to resolve it peacefully will be produced if we maintain the policy of maximum pressure and maintain a credible military deterrent.

And that's why I think Congress has an important role to play. Congress can make it clear that our presence on the Korean Peninsula is not negotiable, that that's as much about countering the immediate threat posed by the Kim regime as it is countering China's long-term threat. And we won't be hamstrung in terms of our ability to work with our allies in the region and pursue our interests strategically yet aggressively.

SHAPIRO: Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, thanks for joining us today.

GALLAGHER: Thank you, I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.