By Brenda Flanagan
“We have conversations often, through phone calls and text messages,” said 16-year-old Cresskill resident Jae Lee. He chats often with family back in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, where the shadow of Kim Jong Un looms threateningly over the border, only 25 miles away. Anxiety levels rose exponentially last week after North Korea successfully fired off an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload.
“It’s worrisome, because especially with the proliferation and the acceleration of the missile technology, I don’t think the Trump administration’s doing ample resources to tackle the issue,” said Lee.
“The whole world is concerned, not only U.S. people. The whole world is concerned about that,” said Duk Lee of Hackensack.
Lee joined other residents of Bergen County’s sizable South Korean community at a roundtable discussion with Congressman Bill Pascrell. They told him that many here had hopes dashed after the president declined to lead G20 nations in a resolution against North Korea.
“People’s lives are at stake and that’s why we need to be careful. This is not a cowboy movie,” said Pascrell.
Pascrell noted some 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed at the Korean border. He applauded the joint U.S. South Korean military show of force in response to North Korea’s missile launch but said a diplomatic solution’s better than a military one. Yet, the Trump administration’s unready to constructively engage.
“We are prepared for combat. We are not prepared for diplomacy. In fact, the state department’s budget has been cut,” said Pascrell.
Pascrell also admonished the president for cozying up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, especially after Russia vetoed a UN resolution condemning another North Korea missile test back in April.
“I’m disappointed that our president was unable to make a deal with world leaders at the G20 in Hamburg, to tighten the screws on North Korea,” said Pascrell.
After the G20, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is working to convince Russia to cut off economic ties with North Korea. But, Tillerson has also defended proposed budget cuts to the state department, telling senators our budget will never determine our ability to be effective — our people will.
But, roundtable participants pushed Pascrell to restore funding to the state department. The congressman said you can’t have diplomacy without diplomats.