Conyers, Dems warn against attack on N. Korea

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Democrats in Congress, led by Rep. John Conyers Jr., sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday warning the administration that it would need congressional approval for any preemptive attack on North Korea.

The letter by the Detroit Democrat was signed by 62 Democratic members of the U.S. House, including Reps. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield and Dan Kildee of Flint Township, urging direct negotiations between North Korea and the United States.

The members commended Tillerson’s statements calling for direct talks with the North but expressed “profound concern” over a comment made Tuesday by President Donald Trump that “dramatically” increased tensions with Pyongyang and alluded to the potential for nuclear war.

“These statements are irresponsible and dangerous, and also senselessly provide a boon to domestic North Korean propaganda, which has long sought to portray the United States as a threat to their people,” reads the letter signed by the lawmakers.

“Accordingly, we respectfully but firmly urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that President Trump and other Administration officials understand the importance of speaking and acting with the utmost caution and restraint on this delicate issue.”

The letter comes amid news that North Korea declared a plan to launch ballistic missiles toward the U.S. territory of Guam – 4,000 miles west of Hawaii in the Pacific – where the U.S. has a significant military presence.

That announcement followed Trump’s statement earlier this week that if North Korea issues more threats to the United States, “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Trump doubled down on those comments Thursday in remarks to reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

“Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said.

“They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries.”

Trump made no commitment to the possibility of a preemptive strike, saying only: “We don’t talk about that. We never do.”

Thursday’s letter says Congress and the American people would hold Trump responsible if a “careless or ill-advised miscalculation” results in conflict that endangers U.S. military members or allies in the region.

The Democrats noted that the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each considered military action against North Korea but ruled it out because it would have run the risk of a counter-response from Pyongyang that could threaten South Korea and the more than 30,000 U.S. service members and 100,000 U.S. citizens living there.

Critics have noted that past administrations also failed to stop the North Korean regime from improving its nuclear weapons arsenal.

The lawmakers said they were grateful that Tillerson has said the United States does not seek war or a change in regime in North Korea. They urged him to “minimize preconditions in order to bring the North Koreans to the table and commence dialogue at the earliest possible date.”

They requested details on steps that the administration is taking to promote the prospects for direct talks that could “lower the potential for catastrophic war and ultimately lead to the denuclearization of the peninsula.”

Trump said Thursday that he’d “always consider negotiations.”

“But they’ve been negotiating now for 25 years,” he added. “I talk. Somebody has to do it.”

The lawmakers noted that they wrote to Trump in late May raising similar concerns but had not received a response.

That letter also asked about steps to address humanitarian issues such as the reunification of Korean families separated by the armistice that concluded the Korean War, and the return of remains of U.S. service members left in North Korea after the war.

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