Ohio senators, congressmen react to North Korea summit

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan expressed alarm at President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel planned military exercises between the United States and its South Korean allies.

Trump, whose announcement Tuesday apparently caught South Korean officials and the U.S. military by surprise, made the pledge at a news conference after his historic summit in Singapore with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un, who said he was committed to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

Kasich, a Republican who ran for the presidency in 2016 and may do so again in 2020, said the move to cancel the military exercises “blindsided our principal ally in the region and some of our own military commanders.”

“Americans welcome the fact that President Trump has begun discussions with” with Kim, Kasich said. “But we must remain vigilant.”

RELATED: Watch the dramatic video that President Trump played for Kim Jong Un

Ryan, a Niles Democrat who has emerged as one of Ohio’s strongest Trump critics, complained about the “compulsive assurance from” Trump to suspend the exercises, saying “this concession from Trump to North Korea is deeply concerning,” and adding that Trump “would do well to remember who our friends really are.”

“Regrettably, it seems that we have nothing today to show for our efforts other than a toothless statement and the same promises that the North Korean regime has already given and broken many times over to previous presidents,” Ryan said.

In a conference call with reporters, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said “the exercises with South Korea are important. I don't think we should give them up without being sure they are meeting the requirements they've agreed to.”

At his news conference in Singapore, Trump said ending the exercises “will save us a tremendous amount of money,” and said he “like to be able” to remove the 32,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, although he said “that’s not part of the equation right now.”

Ohio lawmakers praised the willingness of Trump and Kim to talk directly, but also sprinkled their reactions with words such as “skeptical” and remaining “vigilant” when dealing with Pyongyang and its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Portman said in a statement he remains “skeptical but hopeful” the summit will “translate into meaningful progress” in convincing Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear weapons program.

But Portman said in the past, North Korea has “used talks to stall while continuing its nuclear and missile programs, and empty promises cannot buy any more time.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said “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.”

Senate Republican candidate Jim Renacci, who is challenging Brown in the November election, praised Trump for holding the summit, but said, “This is just the beginning of negotiations, and we must never waiver on our demand for the 100 percent, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.”

Kasich, Portman and Brown all cited the tragic death of Otto Warmbier of Wyoming, Ohio, who died in Cincinnati last year shortly after being released by North Korea where had been held in prison for more than a year. Portman Tuesday described the Kim regime as “evil.”

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said after the summit that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome, saying the summit could be a step toward making the world safer. But, he wrote in a tweet: “I continue to remain skeptical about Kim Jong Un’s commitment to denuclearization. The U.S. and our allies must work together to verify any action taken by North Korea.”

By contrast, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, was more upbeat, tweeting “congratulations” to Trump and adding “this is an important step towards greater peace and prosperity for the whole word.”

Impact on November election

How important is this for voters in the upcoming mid-term elections? Depends on which voter, said Donna Schlagheck, former political science chair at Wright State University.

“The Trump base, they are going to love this. And they are going to love this because they will willfully chose to be ignorant of the significant details. He looked great. They had a summit Handshakes were made. History was made,” she said.

However, polls show that a majority of Americas support Trump’s meeting with Kim following news that Pyongyang had successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead and was considering a plan to fire missiles at Guam.

Schlagheck thinks voters better understood the weight of the G7 summit, held in Canada just before the North Korea summit, where Trump and his advisers made headlines for lashing out at the leaders of other large industrialized nations and longtime U.S. allies.

“Quebec City probably speaks most to voters. Jobs. Tariffs,” she said.

Tony Hall, retired longtime congressman from the Dayton area, has visited North Korea seven times and used that experience to help free a Dayton area man Jeffrey Fowle who was jailed in North Korea four years ago for leaving a bible in a public place.

Hall said at this point, it’s hard to tell what the details of the agreement will be, but he thinks the summit is “a very, very good step.”

“Anytime you have a peace agreement. There’s nothing bad about that,” Hall said.

Since retiring from Congress in 2002, Hall has focused on hunger issues and said one of his top concerns is that so many of the North Koreans are starving and in need of assistance.

“There’s been very little information come out about that in the past few years, but a lot of their people are very malnourished. Hopefully this peace agreement will bring about a restoration of food and some humanitarian work and to restoring a good part of their people to better health,” Hall said.

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