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U.S. Stands With Seoul Over North Korea's Missile Tests, Rep. Bera Says


President Donald Trump says military action against North Korea is not his first choice, but he also says we'll see what happens. A key partner in figuring out what will happen is South Korea, and that is where Congressman Ami Bera spent time last week. He's a Democrat from California, he sits on the foreign relations committee, and he was part of a congressional delegation that sat down with President Moon. He's sitting down across from me in the studio right now.

Good morning, Congressman.

AMI BERA: Good morning.

KELLY: What did you hear from President Moon and others with - that you met with in Seoul?

BERA: You know, they take this threat very seriously, obviously. They're on the front line. We thought it was very important to make sure that the president and our allies in South Korea understand that there's no distance between the United States and South Korea, in terms of our alliance there. We stand ready to protect them.

We also felt it was necessary to send a message to North Korea that there's no distance between us. And then let's find that path forward. War's not our first option either. It - you know, we've got to find the diplomatic solution here.

KELLY: And how was that message received? What were you hearing back as you listened in Seoul?

BERA: You know, I think the message was well-received. But also, the path forward, as the president has said and we've said repeatedly, involves China. And there's a strong message here. China provides most of the hard currency for North Korea, which allows them to fund their missile program, their defense program.

And now's the time for the Chinese to step up. Let's cut off those funds. Let's also, you know, cut off some of the energy supplies. Again, the goal here is to avoid direct military conflict, but South - or North Korea has to come to the table.

KELLY: Was the message you say you were there to deliver in Seoul complicated by the fact that President Trump took a slap this week at South Korea? He tweeted - he accused Seoul of trying to appease North Korea. He said that won't work. I know that came after you were there, but how does that complicate the mix of U.S. diplomacy alongside Seoul's?

BERA: You know, I don't think it helps. I think it complicates and puts distance between us and South Korea. And again, the message here is, we're hand in hand with our allies in South Korea here. You know, South Korea's on the front line. They don't want to see a direct war because that would be devastating.

And now's the time for, you know, China to join us in pushing for a diplomatic solution. It's not in China's interest to have a nuclear war on the peninsula or even a non-nuclear conflict on the peninsula. And, you know, they have the ability to cut off funds to North Korea and, you know, get the North Koreans to the table.

KELLY: The members of the Trump administration briefed lawmakers yesterday. You were in that meeting. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was among others who briefed. What did they have to say? Is it clear to you what the strategy is on North Korea at this point?

BERA: You know, there's a clear message to North Korea, you know, from General Mattis and the administration that any actions militarily against South Korea, or Japan, or even the United States territories or the mainland is going to be met with swift retribution. That's...

KELLY: Carrot-and-stick diplomacy.

BERA: Carrot-and-stick - and again, the goal here is to get them to the table. And we made the point directly to the administration that they ought to work with Congress. We're all on the same team here. And now's the time for China to - you know, if we have to ratchet up secondary sanctions and get the Chinese banks to cut off funds, then we'll have to do that.

KELLY: Just very quickly, have you heard anything that gives you hope China will ratchet up pressure?

BERA: Well, we understand the president and the premier spoke yesterday. You know, they've got to help us here.

KELLY: All right, Congressman Ami Bera from California, thank you so much for coming in.

BERA: You're welcome. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIGUEL LANDO'S "SYLT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.