Cicilline: Diplomacy, not rhetoric, needed to deescalate North Korea conflict

NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — As tensions continue to rise between the United States and North Korea, members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation are weighing in on how they think the issue should be handled.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday promised “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea continues to threaten the United States. The isolated nation responded by threatening preemptive strikes against the U.S. and its Pacific territory of Guam.

The White House on Wednesday said Trump’s remarks were his own, adding that his top advisers knew in advance that the president wanted to strike a tough tone.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson followed up the comments saying nothing he has seen in the last 24 hours indicates a dramatic change and Americans should sleep well at night.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Congressman David Cicilline, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, both said Wednesday that Trump’s comments are counterproductive, and that diplomacy is what’s needed to deescalate the situation.

“We ought to tone down the rhetoric and tone down the temperature,” Cicilline said. “We don’t want to do anything that would escalate this conflict or create a real possibility of a military strike on either side. This is a moment for really smart diplomatic efforts, like the president was able to do at the UN Security Council.”

“We don’t want to create a red line, and then have the president feel he’s obligated to cross it, because he stated it,” he added.

Reed released a statement Wednesday, saying:

“The President’s ‘fire and fury’ ad lib was not helpful. Defusing the North Korea threat will take smart, steady leadership and stronger diplomatic ties with our key allies.

“North Korea is isolated and will face further consequences from the international community for their destabilizing actions. Sanctions on the regime will continue to tighten and the U.S. and international community must work together to strategically apply pressure on North Korea at every point necessary to neutralize this threat.

“When it comes to North Korea, the United States has many tools – diplomatic, financial, and others – to work with, not just military options.

“We will do everything we can to protect the American people and our allies.”

U.S. Congressman Peter King, R-New York, on the other hand, said he believes Trump was right in using a strong tone.

“It was very responsible for the president to say what he did,” King said. “It was sending a clear signal to North Korea in language they can understand.”

Marc Genest, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport and an expert on diplomacy, irregular warfare and terrorism, told Eyewitness News on Wednesday that deterrence can play a strategic role.

“Your enemy has to realize that if they attack you, that there will be absolutely no benefits to doing so, that they will lose, that there are no winners in a nuclear exchange,” Genest explained.

Naval War College Professor Marc Genest

Genest referred to President Bill Clinton’s 1993 visit to the demilitarized zone as an example.

“[Clinton] said that in the event of a North attack on the United States or its allies, that country would cease to exist,” Genest said. “So this is not unprecedented.”

Genest also noted that the Kim dynasty has threatened the West for decades, testing presidents, ratcheting up rhetoric, then going quiet. It’s important for Americans to recognize the difference between evil and irrational, he said.

“This is a bad man, but that does not mean he’s insane,” Genest added. “His point isn’t to go down in a glory of flames. His point is to stay in power.”

Genest said North Korea’s missile gains have put the U.S. in a worse bargaining position. Like others, he said China is the avenue here, and that military options would be messy, to say the least.