Political News

Sen. Jeff Merkley: North Korea is 'playing its normal game' with Trump

Posted July 25, 2018 10:01 p.m. EDT

North Korea is "playing its normal game" in its negotiations about denuclearization with the United States, Sen. Jeff Merkley said Wednesday following a Senate hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"To claim that something new or different has occurred here -- no, North Korea is playing its normal game," the Oregon Democrat said in an interview on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," "in which it agreed to a concept of its own definition of denuclearization, and then freezes activity to let the heat go down."

Merkley said North Korea has previously engaged in similar behavior -- pausing nuclear tests during negotiations -- to gain temporary relief from international pressure.

"What we have right now with North Korea is the beginning of a conversation in which they have not done another nuclear test ... they haven't done another ballistic missile test," he said, "but that type of freeze is the sort of thing they have done before with other administrations. Other administrations did actually get a detailed plan worked out."

Merkley highlighted comments that Pomepo made during the hearing that revealed what Merkley characterized as his failure to reach detailed agreements with North Korea about specific aspects of denuclearization.

"He's been unsuccessful in getting any sort of a detailed agreement with North Korea in regard to the nuclear weapon effort," Merkley said. "That was really about the only thing of substance that came out of that three hours" of the hearing.

Merkley further emphasized that North Korea maintains the nuclear capabilities it had before talks began.

"In kind of a roundabout way, Secretary Pompeo acknowledged that they still have the capabilities that they had before these conversations began," he said. "There's been no significant progress in reducing anything, yet."

Merkley also questioned Trump's commitment to continuing to aggressively pursue North Korean denuclearization in the wake of his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after which Trump said North Korea was "no longer a nuclear threat."

"From his commentary, the President is happy to slow-walk this now," Merkley said.