Trump Expects to Submit North Korea Deal as Treaty to Senate

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump plans to submit any future North Korea nuclear deal to the Senate as a treaty, a way to reassure Kim Jong Un of the agreement’s permanence and make certain future administrations can’t easily undo it, as the president did with the Iran nuclear accord.

Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believe any deal dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program could safely win bipartisan support, according to a senior administration official who asked not to be identified.

“We are hopeful that we will put ourselves in a position that we can do something the previous administration didn’t do,” Pompeo said at a White House news conference on Thursday. “They signed a flimsy piece of paper and we’re hoping to submit a document that Congress would also have a say in that would give it currency and strength and elongation to the process.”

He didn’t use the word “treaty” and didn’t answer a follow-up question about whether the document would be a treaty, which would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate.

With such an agreement in place, Pompeo said, “Chairman Kim will have comfort that American policy will continue down the same path on the course we hope we’re able to set in Singapore” after Trump leaves office in “six-and-a-half years.”

Any potential treaty is likely a long way off. Trump’s planned summit with Kim on June 12 in Singapore isn’t expected to produce much more than a road map for future talks. Trump himself has said the meeting with Kim will only be a chance for the two leaders to get to know each other. And most North Korea experts say Kim’s regime will never surrender all of its nuclear capabilities.

Separately, in an interview with National Public Radio on Thursday, Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo assured him the U.S. wanted to make a treaty of any deal it reaches.

“All of them are committed to seeing that they get an agreement that they can bring to the United States Senate and have it ratified as a treaty,” Risch said. “That is not only good for us but it is also good for North Korea because they will then have a treaty that they can rely on.”

The White House declined to comment when questioned about a potential treaty. Another official, who also asked not to be identified, said the administration isn’t ready to speculate about the outcome of the summit or what an agreement would look like, but said Trump looks forward to working with Congress if a deal is reached.

The Trump administration sees a possible treaty as one way of reassuring North Korea that any deal would be permanent and the U.S. would stick to it. It was Trump himself who stoked fears of a U.S. reversal after he pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement last month. The Obama administration never submitted the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to the Senate for ratification because it believed passage was impossible.

Former officials who have spoken to North Korean leaders say they are acutely aware of the difference between a presidential commitment and a formal treaty, and would likely demand the latter.

“I know people say, ‘Well, North Korea doesn’t care about Iran,”’ Robert Gallucci, a former chief North Korea negotiator in the Clinton administration, said at a briefing this week. North Korean leaders are “very keenly aware of the differences in commitments, and they will be, and still are,” he said.

One of the administration officials said it would be untenable for Democrats to vote against a North Korea treaty given how tortuous negotiations have been over the country’s nuclear program, not to mention the risks of the regime maintaining nuclear weapons.

As part of the talks over North Korea’s nuclear program, Trump could also seek to submit a treaty to the Senate declaring a formal end to the Korean War. The U.S. and North Korea signed an armistice ending the conflict in 1953 but never formally ended the war with a treaty. Such an agreement would also require the consent of South Korea.

Any agreement over North Korea’s nuclear program would likely take far longer given the need to pin down details of dismantlement and verification. And making it a treaty would raise a whole host of other complicating factors, among them the questions of whether the Senate would agree or whether South Korea would be a party to it and how it would be viewed by allies including Japan.

“If you’re a policy maker, all that does is make your life more difficult,” said Evan Medeiros, Asia managing director at Eurasia Group and former senior director for Asian affairs at the White House National Security Council in the Obama administration. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because it would have to be a South, North, U.S. agreement, so that would be deeply controversial.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.