McConnell: Trump aware of past games played by North Koreans

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — As the U.S. and North Korea discuss a potentially on-again summit, President Donald Trump is “fully aware of the games” North Korean leaders have played in the past and won’t be “snookered into a bad deal,” the Senate’s top leader said Monday.

After paying tribute to Kentucky’s war dead at a Memorial Day service, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he remains hopeful that negotiations between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could lead to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

But McConnell cautioned that generations of North Korean dictators have “tried to spin us.”

“And the president, I think, is fully aware of the games they’ve played in the past,” the Kentucky Republican said. “But look, it’s good that they’re likely to meet. I think it’s better to meet than not. And we’re hopeful that somehow at the end of all of this, we’ll have a Korean peninsula without nuclear weapons.”

American and North Korean officials have been engaged in talks in what’s been an on-off-perhaps-on-again summit between Trump and Kim. Trump withdrew from a planned June 12 Singapore summit with Kim last Thursday, but has said it could still happen.

McConnell labeled the back-and-forth on whether a summit will take place as “classic North Korean behavior.” For decades, North Korean leaders have “basically played games in order to try to get relief from sanctions,” the senator said.

“I think the president understands that and is not likely to be snookered into a bad deal,” McConnell said.

Verification would be a crucial element of any deal to ensure North Korea complies with any agreement, he said. That would involve “having people on the ground in North Korea,” he said.

“That will be an interesting test as to whether or not they’re really willing to not only give up their nuclear weapons but allow us to verify,” McConnell said.

On an issue closer to home, McConnell hailed congressional passage of legislation to expand private care for military veterans as an alternative to the troubled Veterans Affairs health system.

The measure’s final approval last week represented a “big step in the direction of taking better care of our veterans,” the senator said.

The bill, in part, would allow veterans to access private care when they have endured lengthy wait times or VA medical centers do not offer the services they need.

“We’re hoping that that level of competition is going to help shape up the agency, because it really needs shaken up,” McConnell said.

McConnell chatted with reporters after speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Day service at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

“We pause as one people to remember the brave men and women who paid the ultimate price answering our nation’s call,” McConnell said in his speech. “Whatever the hardship, they stood up to defend our freedom and to free others. And they never failed us.”