Congressmen warn Trump against strike

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Congressmen warn Trump against strike

A group of 64 U.S. Democratic lawmakers warned President Donald Trump in a letter Tuesday that he would need congressional approval for any pre-emptive strike on North Korea and encouraged “direct” engagement with the isolationist regime.

“Few decisions are more needing of debate than a move to launch attacks, or declare war, on a nuclear-armed state such as North Korea,” stated the letter addressed to Trump. It went onto warn that an “inconsistent or unpredictable policy runs the risk of unimaginable conflict” with such a volatile country as North Korea.

The letter was signed by a group of congressmen in the House of Representatives led by Reps. John Conyers of Michigan, Barbara Lee of California and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.

The lawmakers called for more information about what steps the administration is taking “to advance the prospects for direct negotiations that could lower the potential for catastrophic war and ultimately lead to the denuclearization of the peninsula.”

They continued, “In the event that your plans do include an ill-advised military component, we stand ready to exercise our constitutional duty to approve, or reject, any such military action.”

This comes amid concerns in Congress over the Trump administration’s erratic policy toward the North, as the U.S. president has declared “all options are on the table,” leaving a door open to military action including a pre-emptive strike. Trump has also said that he is open to talks with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un under the right conditions.

The congressmen underscored that while the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973 provide the president the authority to act in cases of emergencies, “both require an affirmative authorization from Congress before our nation engages in military action abroad against a state that has not attacked the U.S. or our assets abroad.”

The letter stressed the past three U.S. administrations under presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton ruled out the possibility of military action against Pyongyang and “ultimately determined there was no military option that would not run the unacceptable risk of counter-reaction from Pyongyang.”

Such retaliation from the North, it pointed out, could endanger as many as a third of the South Korean population, nearly 30,000 U.S. troops in the region as well as over 100,000 U.S. citizens living in Korea.

The congressmen encouraged Trump to adhere to a diplomatic approach, expressing support for U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent statement that his preferred method for resolution is “direct talks with North Korea,” persuading the North that they do not need nuclear weapons to secure the existence of the regime. They also backed Tillerson’s remarks reassuring Pyongyang that Washington did not seek a regime change in the North or its collapse.

“President Trump’s irresponsible statements on North Korea endanger our troops, our regional allies such as South Korea and Japan, and global security more broadly,” said Conyers, dean of the House of Representatives and one of two remaining Korean War veterans serving in the U.S. Congress, in a press release. “As someone who has watched this conflict evolve since I was sent to Korea as a young Army lieutenant, it is a reckless, inexperienced move to threaten military action that could end in devastation instead of pursuing vigorous diplomacy.”

Lee, a daughter of a veteran of the 1950-53 Korean War, said, “This letter reinforces the constitutional responsibility of the president to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering any use of U.S. military force.”

She said that she will continue to demand that Trump provide Congress with a comprehensive strategy “for deterring North Korea that puts
diplomacy and non-military strategies first.”

Some 60 percent of Americans support “direct negotiations” between Washington and Pyongyang to end North Korea’s nuclear program, according to a poll conducted by the Economist and pollster YouGov between April 29 and May 2, nearly equally distributed between Democrats and Republicans.

The UN Security Council held a closed-door emergency session in New York Tuesday to discuss how to respond to the North’s ballistic missile test on Sunday, with the United States and its allies pushing for new, additional sanctions on the regime.

But veto-wielding China had a lukewarm response toward new, stronger sanctions pushed by the other permanent members including United States, the United Kingdom and France, calling for the other six UNSC resolutions to be fully implemented “first and foremost.”

“We don’t see why dialogue cannot take place in the current situation now,” said Chinese Ambassador to the UN Liu Jieyi after the meeting.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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