It may have been historic but the contenders to become the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate were decidedly unimpressed by President Donald Trump’s hastily arranged meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, characterizing it as a photo-op that didn’t do much beyond stroke the commander in chief’s ego. Although they all pretty much agreed there was nothing inherently wrong with talking to adversaries, they largely insisted that should only happen after careful preparation and progress.
“Our President shouldn’t be squandering American influence on photo ops and exchanging love letters with a ruthless dictator,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote on Twitter.
Through a spokesman, vice president Joe Biden accused Trump of “coddling” dictators, in reference to both the meeting with Kim and his warm relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. “President Trump’s coddling of dictators at the expense of American national security and interests is one of the most dangerous ways that he’s diminishing us on the world stage and subverting our values as a nation,” campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said.
Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Sen. Bernie Sanders said that while he has “no problem with him sitting down with Kim Jong-un in North Korea or any place else,” the real question is what happens next. “What’s going to happen tomorrow and the next day? He has weakened the State Department. If we’re going to bring peace to this world, we need a strong State Department, we need to move forward diplomatically, not just do photo opportunities,” Sanders said.
Julian Castro, meanwhile, said the president was doing things “backward” because so far Kim has not kept any of his promises yet he is being rewarded by the president of the United States. “I am all for speaking with our adversaries, but what’s happened here is that this president has raised the profile of a dictator like Kim Jong-un and now three times visited with him unsuccessfully because he’s doing it backward,” Castro said on ABC’s This Week. “Usually what happens … is that there’s an intense amount of staff work that goes into negotiating how one of these talks is going to go so that you can hopefully get something out of it. We haven’t gotten anything out of it.”
Sen. Kamala Harris also characterized the meeting as little more than a photo. “This President should take the North Korean nuclear threat and its crimes against humanity seriously,” Harris wrote on Twitter. “This is not a photo-op. Our security and our values are at stake.”
For her part, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Trump was being naïve in thinking that a handshake would automatically translate into progress. “Of course, as a country, we want this to work. We want to see a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a reduction in these missiles. But it is not as easy as just going and bringing a hot dish over the fence to the dictator next door,” Klobuchar said on CNN. “This is a ruthless dictator. And, when you go forward, you have to have clear focus and a clear mission and clear goals.”
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke also pointed out that Trump’s grandstanding aside, there hasn’t been any real progress in getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. “Despite three years of almost bizarre foreign policy from this president, this country is no safer when it comes to North Korea. They have removed none of their nuclear weapons or their potential to deliver them to the United States. And, in fact, in contravention of the United Nations they have launched other missiles flouting the diplomacy that this President has attempted so far. So, we’ve added legitimacy to Kim Jong Un,” he said on CBS’ Face the Nation.
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