Ohio’s delegation responds to summit

Published 9:00 am Friday, June 15, 2018

WASHINGTON — Members of Ohio’s delegation to Congress responded Tuesday to the news of President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un.

Claiming success at their whirlwind summit, Trump and Kim left Singapore, praising their face-to-face progress toward ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons. Yet Trump faced pointed questions at home about whether he got little and gave away much — including an agreement to halt U.S. military exercises with South Korea.

Both leaders expressed optimism throughout roughly five hours of talks, with Trump thanking Kim afterward “for taking the first bold step toward a bright new future for his people.” Kim, for his part, said the leaders had “decided to leave the past behind” and promised: “The world will see a major change.”

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U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he has long called for direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea.

“I have also supported the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un with the goal of achieving a peaceful solution that includes North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons,” Portman said in a news release. “I am hopeful that the negotiations can achieve these goals. In the past, however, North Korea has used talks to stall while continuing its nuclear and missile programs, and empty promises cannot buy any more time.”

Portman raised the issue of human rights violations by Kim’s government, including the death of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old Ohio college student, who, while visiting North Korea, was arrested for removing a propaganda poster of Kim from the hotel he was staying at.

Warmbier was detained for “a hostile act against the state” and sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor. International observers, such as Human Rights Watch, condemned the trial as “a kangaroo court.”

While in prison, Warmbier fell into a coma and, after U.S. officials secured his release, he was in a persistent vegetative state death days later on June 19, 2017. The cause of his condition remains in dispute.

“For nearly 18 months I worked to help secure the release of Otto Warmbier,” Portman said. “Nearly one year ago, I joined Fred and Cindy Warmbier in Cincinnati as they welcomed Otto home from North Korea, and it’s a constant reminder to me about the evil nature of this regime.”

Ohio’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, said he hopes negotiations succeed, but also expressed skepticism.

“I’m glad the President had a positive meeting with Kim Jong Un,” Brown said. “But we’ve heard empty promises from the North Koreans before, so we must continue to hold them accountable with tough sanctions until we see proof the North Koreans are taking real steps to dismantle their nuclear weapons program.”

Brown helped pass new, more strict sanctions into law against North Korea in 2017. He also introduced another new set of sanctions named after Warmbier, which passed through committee.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, praised the president’s meeting with Kim.

“I applaud President Trump and those on his team working tirelessly to address the real and growing North Korean nuclear threat,” Johnson said. “The strategy used by previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic, clearly did not work, and it was time for a new approach.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report