AP In­ter­view: GOP se­na­tor faults China on North Korea

El Dorado News-Times - - Local -

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — China is more of an ad­ver­sary than an ally on North Korea, ac­cord­ing to a lead­ing Repub­li­can se­na­tor and staunch sup­porter of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump who de­clared dur­ing a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view Thurs­day that Py­ongyang's push for an atomic arse­nal ac­tu­ally ben­e­fits Bei­jing.

Sen. Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas told The As­so­ci­ated Press the U.S. should ex­pand its mil­i­tary pres­ence on and around the Korean Penin­sula to pres­sure China into be­ing a se­ri­ous part­ner in the cam­paign to defuse North Korea's nu­clear pro­gram. He said the Defense Depart­ment should move the fam­i­lies of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary per­son­nel out of South Korea as North Korea pushes the U.S. closer to a mil­i­tary con­flict.

Cot­ton, a mem­ber of the Armed Ser­vices and In­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees, also said U.S. al­lies in Europe have their "head in the sand" on the Iran nu­clear deal. They need to re­al­ize that Trump will pull the U.S. out of the land­mark ac­cord un­less they agree to his de­mand for changes aimed at mak­ing the pact more strin­gent, he said.

Cot­ton said Chi­nese diplo­mats are ly­ing when they tell their West­ern coun­ter­parts that Bei­jing shares their goal of con­vinc­ing North Korea to aban­don its ad­vanc­ing nu­clear weapon and bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­grams. Py­ongyang last week test fired a long-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile that ex­perts said could hit Wash­ing­ton.

A nu­clear-ca­pa­ble North Korea draws at­ten­tion away from Bei­jing's mis­be­hav­ior that in­cludes "eco­nomic war­fare" against the U.S., is­land build­ing in the dis­puted South China Sea, and its "atro­cious treat­ment of Chris­tians," Cot­ton said in an AP News­maker in­ter­view.

"As long as North Korea is a nu­clear coun­try, the time and en­ergy and ef­fort of U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers must be fo­cused on North Korea, not on China," he said. "That's why they've been play­ing both sides of the street, say­ing one thing to West­ern of­fi­cials in pub­lic but do­ing noth­ing to stop North Korea from get­ting nu­clear weapons or now to get them to de­nu­cle­arize."

Cot­ton's stance on China is more stri­dent than the ap­proach the pres­i­dent has taken with Bei­jing.

Al­though Cot­ton is a ju­nior se­na­tor — he was elected just three years ago — his words carry weight. He's close to Trump and se­nior White House of­fi­cials said Cot­ton is con­sid­ered to be a lead­ing can­di­date to run the CIA should Trump de­cide to shake up his na­tional se­cu­rity team.

Cot­ton said in one con­ver­sa­tion with the pres­i­dent, he rec­om­mended that he nom­i­nate cur­rent White House chief of staff John Kelly to be sec­re­tary of state. Trump even­tu­ally tapped Rex Tiller­son for the job and named Kelly sec­re­tary of home­land se­cu­rity.

But on other is­sues cov­ered in the in­ter­view, Cot­ton em­pha­sized that no ev­i­dence has so far been found that Trump col­luded with Rus­sia to in­flu­ence the out­come of the 2016 elec­tion.

He shrugged off as "idle spec­u­la­tion" talk of him even­tu­ally re­plac­ing CIA Direc­tor Mike Pom­peo if Pom­peo were to move to another ad­min­is­tra­tion post.

On North Korea, Trump has tried to ca­jole and flat­ter Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, seek­ing to make him an ally in the ef­fort to pres­sure North Korea to aban­don its nu­clear weapons pro­gram. Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump ac­cused China of "rap­ing" the United States on trade. But dur­ing a visit to Bei­jing last month, he aban­doned the con­fronta­tional pos­ture, say­ing he didn't blame China for tak­ing ad­van­tage of the U.S.

Cot­ton ap­pears to be much more in line with Steve Ban­non, the for­mer Trump ad­viser who has called for the United States to be "ma­ni­a­cally fo­cused" on an eco­nomic war against China to nar­row the trade deficit and pull man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs back to the United States.

The in­ter­view also delved into the sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­i­tics roil­ing the United States, from Hol­ly­wood and cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tive of­fices to cam­paigns and Capi­tol Hill, as Sen. Al Franken said he will re­sign his seat fol­low­ing a wave of sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions and the loss of sup­port from his Demo­cratic col­leagues.

In Alabama, GOP Sen­ate can­di­date Roy Moore hopes to win Tues­day's spe­cial elec­tion even as al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct are swirling around him. Mul­ti­ple women have ac­cused him of sex­ual mis­con­duct decades ago, when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Cot­ton de­clined to say whether he thinks equal stan­dards ap­ply in all cases against Franken, Moore and Trump, who has been ac­cused by more than a dozen women of sex­ual mis­con­duct and was recorded by "Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood" brag­ging about touch­ing women with­out their con­sent. All three men have de­nied de­tails of the ac­cu­sa­tions, if not the claims out­right.

On Moore and oth­ers, Cot­ton said, vot­ers "are go­ing to make that de­ci­sion, just like the peo­ple of this coun­try made their de­ci­sion last year on Don­ald Trump."

He added that women should be able to com­plain of sex­ual as­sault and the ac­cused should be able to de­fend them­selves.

"We shouldn't have trial by news­pa­per," he said.

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