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Wednesday, December 8th, 2021

Sen. Portman calls for continued “maximum pressure campaign” against North Korea

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In response to reports that President Donald Trump had canceled the planned June 12 summit with North Korea, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) called on Thursday to maintain pressure by continuing talks, engaging the international community and upholding tougher sanctions.

Portman, a member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, delivered his remarks during a hearing that featured testimony from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Portman said he was “disappointed, but frankly not surprised” that the summit was canceled given the nature of Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The only reason North Korea agreed to come to the table, Portman said, was a “maximum pressure campaign” that includes international sanctions with China playing a significant role. However, Portman said the maximum pressure campaign appeared to be “paused” in recent weeks and questioned whether Pompeo planned to re-engage and ramp up those efforts, particularly regarding China’s engagement.

“My sense was we hadn’t taken much of a pause,” Pompeo replied. “We’re still out working around the world to convince others to do the things that we needed them to do when there were North Korean workers there to send them back to North Korea to stop permits going back. There were also activities; we still have extensive work on ship to ship transfers, we were still building out that capacity as well to stop refined products from entering North Korea, as well. So, I think we’ve been continuing that even up through today as we were contemplating the June 12 summit. That won’t change, we’ve still got work to do to build out each of those. I’m sure there are additional sanctions that we will seek to put in place in the United States. I’m sure we’ll go back to others asking them to do more as well.”

Concerning international pressure, Pompeo said it is “one thing for the United States to be out after it” but international partners have done ‘so much work” that cause economic pain to their own countries to give up before achieving the goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Portman said he and Pompeo had previously spoken privately about the importance of the State Department “getting its swagger back” and one way to achieve that goal would be to adequately staff the Global Engagement Center (GEC), which leads U.S. efforts to counter propaganda and misinformation from foreign countries.

“I am encouraged by (Pompeo’s) budget request, $53.5 million,” Portman said. “I’m also encouraged that the DoD funding is finally coming your way. I do think that the DOD funding should perhaps be looked at as a two-year funding source now that we’re so close to the fiscal year. I hope you’ll look into that; I think that would be helpful. You also talked about ensuring that the right people are in place, not just contractors but having folks who are there who are senior members of your Foreign Service Organization who can really make this GEC the effective body that you believe it can be.”

Pompeo agreed with Portman about the importance of the GEC but said he had “little progress to identify” in terms of filling 13 full-time positions that are previously frozen out from being filled. Pompeo also highlighted the role of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in advancing public diplomacy.