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Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel Reacts To Cancellation Of Planned North Korea Summit


Congressman Eliot Engel is the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Here's what he said on the House floor today when he learned that President Trump had pulled out of the summit with North Korea.


ELIOT ENGEL: The world held out hope that the Trump administration's diplomatic engagement with North Korea would bear fruit. But you cannot have thin skin if you want to make progress with a difficult adversary such as the Kim regime.

CORNISH: Congressman Engel joins us now. Welcome to the program.

ENGEL: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

CORNISH: So the White House is not saying this is a situation of having thin skin. They cite recent hostile words from North Korea, yes. But the president also said that the country failed to allow international inspectors to watch the shutdown of a nuclear site that they were closing, also that North Korea cut off direct communications with the U.S. What's your response?

ENGEL: Well, Secretary of State Pompeo came to the Foreign Affairs Committee for four hours yesterday, and he said that the meeting was on. And he didn't even give any kind of hint that it might be canceled. I think he probably didn't know. And what we've seen from time and time again is that this commander in chief has anger and hostility and bellicose rhetoric and things that are not helpful when we're dealing with an adversary like North Korea. I think that the president's attitude that somehow we're bigger and stronger and you're not is something that you would expect from a kindergarten child but not from the president of the United States. I think it's...

CORNISH: But the secretary has been public in saying that communications went dark with North Korea. And this is after he's made two visits there - right? - one as head of the CIA.

ENGEL: Well, but there was no - until today there was no hint whatsoever that this meeting was in jeopardy. When there is an important diplomatic meeting that's set up, you usually cross every T and dot every I before you make the announcement. We need the president to be diplomatic and to understand that these are very important and sensitive negotiations. The people on the other side, Kim Jong Un, you'd perhaps expect to behave in such a way. But you wouldn't expect it from the president of the United States of America.

CORNISH: This is not the first administration to struggle in trying to get talks going with North Korea, though. I mean, isn't the U.S. right to be skeptical of their intentions?

ENGEL: Oh, we're very right to be skeptical. But I just don't think the president should practice it with a temper tantrum. I just think that it undermines American leadership. It makes us feel silly. Our allies - you know, Japan and South Korea probably felt blindsided and didn't even know what was happening. This is not something that really should happen with the United States of America.

CORNISH: We should note that in his letter to North Korea's leader, the president did say the door is open and that he would like to, if North Korea wanted to, have more talks. I mean, is that not an open door?

ENGEL: Well, I hope the door is open. I mean, I would like to see an agreement. I'm under no illusion that Kim Jong Un is a good person. I've been to North Korea twice. But I just think that the impulsive mismanagement of this very dangerous national security issue has just made the United States and our allies less safe. The commander in chief talks about destruction and that we're much stronger, and his nuclear button is bigger than Kim's nuclear button. And it makes me feel very, very sad that the United States - there's no rhyme or reason; there's no continuity - swings from side to side. It doesn't behoove the president of the United States to act this way.

CORNISH: Congressman Eliot Engel is a Democrat. He's the senior ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you for speaking with us.

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

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