Senator Tom Cotton joined me Tuesday morning to discuss the just completed summit in Singapore:
HH: Joined by United States Senator Tom Cotton. Good morning, Senator.
TC: Good morning, Hugh. It’s good to be on with you.
HH: Tell us your reaction to what we have seen in the last 10 hours.
TC: The Singapore Summit, Hugh, was a positive step. Obviously, it’s the first step in what will be a long process in the coming months. And the proof of the pudding will be in the eating in those coming months. Does Kim Jong Un follow through on his commitment to denuclearize in a way that is verifiable and irreversible? As the President himself said at his news conference, we may look back on this in a few months and say it didn’t work. But because North Korea already has nuclear weapons, because they have the means to deliver them anywhere in the world, it was an important step the President took, and I think it’s a way, hopefully, that we can bring peace to Northeast Asia and remove a terrible threat from the American people.
HH: There are two key grabs, Senator Cotton, which I want to play for you. Cut number 10 on inspections. This is in response to Major Garrett.
DT: We talked about the guarantees, and we talked about unwavering commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This is the document that we just signed.
MG: Did you discuss with Chairman Kim methods to verify either with the United States or international organizations that very process?
DT: Yes, we did. Yes, we did.
MG: And do you have a time table in mind?
DT: And we’ll be verifying, yeah.
MG: Will you leave that to others?
DT: We’ll be verifying. It’ll be verified.
MG: How is that going to be achieved, Mr. President?
DT: Well, it’s going to be achieved by having a lot of people there. And as we…
HH: And so Senator Cotton, that is, to me, the key, right?
TC: That’s the key, Hugh. Again, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating in the coming months. Heads of state don’t negotiate the technical details of a verification regime. That’ll be left up to Secretary Pompeo and other members of our national security team. He just announced that he’s going to Seoul and then onto Beijing before he returns to the United States to begin the work to implement the commitments that Kim Jong Un made. And as the President himself said, maybe Kim Jong Un won’t follow through on those. Let’s hope he does. In the meantime, we have to continue our campaign of maximum pressure from an economic standpoint and avoid the mistakes of past administrations of both parties in dealing with the Kim regime, which is that we don’t grant up front concessions in return for easily reversed promises.
HH: Are you upset by the President’s statement about military exercises, even though they’re not scheduled to occur until March or April of ’19?
TC: Well, Hugh, that’s and important point that you make. The main military exercise about which the Kim regime has complained for years is something called Foal Eagle, which usually happens in the spring, which means it won’t happen again until next spring. And I suspect by that point, we’ll have, well before that point, actually, we’ll know whether Kim Jong Un is serious about these commitments.
HH: Would you expect the exercises to happen if we find any evidence of cheating?
TC: I believe that Donald Trump is going to continue the campaign of maximum pressure, and he will not grant one-sided unilateral concessions. And if Kim Jong Un reverses his commitments on a much bigger issue than trade negotiations, than what the President said about Justin Trudeau will be repeated tenfold about Kim Jong Un.
HH: Would you agree with me that one launch, one test, one launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, one test of a nuke, is an admission of lying by North Korea?
TC: That would be a good indicator, Hugh, that Kim Jong Un does not intend to follow through on his commitments. Again, we should be skeptical about his commitments. That’s why verification is so important. That’s why it will take a number of months before we can confirm that he actually is willing to turn over and shut down his nuclear program in return for some of these security guarantees or economic opportunities that Mike Pompeo has been raising for the North Korean people for weeks now.
HH: What does he get out of this, Tom Cotton, and by that, I mean Kim Jong Un? What do you think he gets?
TC: You know, Hugh, think about where this summit was held, in Singapore, which is a tropical island on the South China Sea. 60 years ago, Singapore was militarily important. It was a small trading post, but it wasn’t a city-state that had a higher per capita household income than the United States of America. As he drove around Singapore these last two days, you have to wonder if he thought this is what North Korea could look like, or as he looks to South Korea. This is what North Korea could look like as opposed to being on the perpetual verge of economic collapse, which also means the perpetual verge of the collapse of his regime. Again, I can’t know that for sure, but you have to imagine that might be on his mind as he’s driving around Singapore, which now is one of the wealthiest nations on Earth.
HH: To the people who are declaring, last question, Senator Cotton, that Donald Trump gave away too much with the flags and the handshake, what’s your response?
TC: There is a school of thought that the United States should not sit down, that the United States president should not sit down with two-bit dictators. I think there’s some validity to that school of thought with the exception once those dictators have nuclear weapons. You know, countries like Iran and Cuba and other two-bit rogue regimes don’t have nuclear weapons, yet. They can’t threaten the United States in that way. Once North Korea had nuclear weapons, once they have missiles that can deliver them to use, I would liken it to past presidents sitting down with Soviet dictators. It’s not something that we should celebrate. It’s not a pretty sight. But it’s a necessary part of the job to try to protect Americans from a terrible threat.
HH: Senator Tom Cotton, candid and clear as always. I appreciate it.
End of interview.