The following Q&A was prepared with Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, and Washington Times Special Sections Manager Cheryl Wetzstein for this section, which is developed by The Washington Times Advocacy Department.
As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, Sen. Cory Gardner has been the leader in the Senate in deterring North Korea’s heinous regime. Sen. Gardner authored the North Korea Sanctions Policy and Enhancement Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in February 2016. The legislation marked the first time Congress imposed stand-alone mandatory sanctions on North Korea.
Earlier this summer, Sen. Gardner introduced bipartisan legislation to ban any entity that does business with North Korea or its enablers from using the United States’ financial system, and impose U.S. sanctions on all those participating in North Korean labor trafficking abuses. Sen. Gardner has applauded recent steps taken by the Trump administration to ramp up pressure on North Korea, including the unprecedented step of sanctioning certain Chinese and Russian and other financial institutions and individuals for doing business with North Korea.
Q: Will North Korea’s Aug. 28 missile test over Japan further escalate the situation in North Korea, or is it more of the same from them?
Sen. Gardner: North Korea continues to defy international sanctions and refuses to stop their belligerent missile tests that pose a serious threat to the U.S. and our allies. Their latest provocative launch, where a missile flew over Japan, is completely unacceptable and we must join with our allies in the region to show Pyongyang we will not tolerate this behavior. North Korea has proven they have no intentions of backing down. Every new step that North Korea takes in provoking the United States and our allies proves more needs to be done to stop their dangerous behavior. The missile launch over Japan was reckless and is intended to drive conflict. China and Russia must see this as a step toward aggression, and finally join the international community to pressure Kim Jong-un into peaceful denuclearization.
Q: North Korea has threatened to strike Guam. Does the fact that they are a U.S. territory change how we would respond to any threats by the North Korean regime to strike Guam?
A: As we continue to use economic and diplomatic pressure to achieve peaceful denuclearization, we must also show Kim Jong-un that all options are on the table if he decides to attack the United States or our allies. A peaceful resolution is the best outcome, but we must be ready to defend ourselves militarily if we have to. Kim Jong-un must know that should economic and diplomatic measures fail, the United States and our allies will have the capability and resolve to counter his aggression with the strongest military the world has ever known. I echo Defense Secretary Mattis’ sentiment that we are ready to defend ourselves if North Korea strikes any U.S. territory, including Guam.
Q: What is your assessment of the Trump administration’s current policies? Are they different than the previous administration?
A: The Obama administration’s failed policy of “strategic patience” toward Pyongyang contributed to the rapid development of North Korea’s arsenal of mass destruction. The acceleration of its nuclear and ballistic missile program represents a grave threat to global peace and stability — and a direct threat to the American homeland in the immediate future.
I’m encouraged the Trump administration has recognized the policy of strategic patience was a strategic failure and is taking a harder line toward North Korea. The administration has taken some positive steps in trying to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program. They’ve accomplished what previous administrations were unable to do in getting nations that rarely see eye to eye on anything to come together at the United Nations to put in place needed sanctions against North Korea. The United States can only negotiate with North Korea from a position of strength and only if Pyongyang first abides by the denuclearization commitments it has previously made, but subsequently chose to unilaterally discard. Peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula must be our ultimate objective, and it is our duty to try all diplomatic options to achieve this goal. The Trump administration can show the world that the United States will no longer lead from behind, but instead find a comprehensive solution the global community supports.
Q: In your communication with the current administration, what changes to current policy or strategy are you advocating for as the situation becomes more serious on the Korean Peninsula?
A: North Korea is propped up by regimes like China and Russia, and we have to apply more pressure to Kim Jong-un and his rogue regime. I have called on the global community to impose a complete economic embargo against the heinous regime in Pyongyang. Every nation of conscience should cut off all finance and trade with North Korea, with a few limited humanitarian exceptions, until such time that Pyongyang is willing to meet its international commitments to peacefully denuclearize. The U.N. Security Council should immediately endorse such an embargo in a new resolution and make it binding on all nations.
We must give every entity doing business with Pyongyang a choice — you either do business with this outlaw regime or the world’s economic superpower. I have introduced legislation that would ban any entity that does business with North Korea or its enablers from using the United States financial system, and I will keep pushing for stronger actions that are part of our efforts to stop a war breaking out on the Korean Peninsula.