SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Rep. John Curtis said Tuesday he's hopeful North Korea will follow through on a commitment made to a "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula, following a summit meeting with President Donald Trump.
"There are some early signs that give us reason to think this might be different than what we've seen in the past. But (there's) lots of suspicion and lots of, I just think, this absolute need to verify and get assurance that it's not just talk," Curtis said.
The newest member of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation also said Trump deserves credit for sitting down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore to talk about ending that nation's nuclear weapons program.
"Certainly, we're optimistic and, quite frankly, I applaud the president for putting us in this position," Curtis, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Deseret News in an interview from Washington.
Curtis said Trump has "taken tons of criticism for his approach. Everybody has been very critical of him and yet, here he is, the first president to meet face to face with Kim and start the discussion and have an agreement of the direction."
Rep. Chris Stewart, on his way to receive a classified briefing as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the historic meeting between the two leaders likely accomplished as much as was possible.
"I think anyone that expected more than that probably didn't understand just how complicated this is going to be. It will take years for North Korea to denuclearize and for us to verify that," Stewart said.
He said he understands what goes into carrying out such an agreement because of his participation as a U.S. Air Force pilot in a verification team for the SALT II treaty between the United States and the then-Soviet Union limiting nuclear weapons.
At this point with the agreement with North Korea, Stewart said "it's not that we don't know the details. It's that the details don't exist yet. We have a very broad framework. From that, it will take a lot of work."
He said the promise that North Korea and its leaders could become more prosperous by giving up its nuclear program is "one of the bigger carrots" America has and could lead to better conditions in one of the world's most repressive regimes.
But Stewart said this wasn't the time to focus on human rights abuses within North Korea.
"Not at this point. This was a summit about one thing, and that was denuclearizing and reducing the threat from the North Korean military and the regime," he said. "Hopefully, we'll get to a point we can talk about that."
Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, who taught government and history in high school before coming to Congress 15 years ago, said the results of the summit that ended with a signing ceremony Tuesday were "much better than anticipated."
Bishop said in an interview with KSL Newsradio, however, "there is a long way it has to go before anything that is lasting and permanent takes place, and there are all sorts of possibilities of things blowing up for whatever reasons."
Still, he compared making changes in a divided Korean Peninsula to the reunification of Germany in 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall in Communist-controlled East Germany.
Because North and South Korea "are so starkly different, well, we're going to have to see how that works out. But then again, I never thought I would see Germany reunited in my lifetime, so anything's possible."
He credited Trump's nontraditional approach to negotiations with getting results. Trump had taken to Twitter less than a year ago to threaten Kim with "fire and fury" over North Korea's nuclear missile development.
The way Trump "has gone about things has maybe broken up some of the stalemate and we are closer to a lasting peace on this peninsula than we have been since (President) Eisenhower in 1953," Bishop said.
He said Hill Air Force Base, located within the 1st Congressional District that he represents, has "played a major role" in the United States' military protection of South Korea.
Rep. Mia Love said in a statement Tuesday she was "encouraged, yet cautious" that the summit in Singapore would result in lasting peace between North and South Korea and commended Trump "for not accepting the status quo."
Love said "any final agreement should be strong, specific and verifiable" and that the only acceptable path forward as negotiations continue is complete and verifiable denuclearization.
"We must not forget North Korea’s history of a brutal regime and a long history of deceit," she said. "While we remain hopeful, we must continue to apply maximum economic pressure until North Korea proves it is serious about this new relationship."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is retiring after serving 42 years in the Senate, said it was too soon to label the summit either a success or a failure, calling this "one of the most complex geopolitical situations of the last hundred years.9 comments on this story
Hatch said in a statement that Trump's opening to begin a longer-term engagement with North Korea on a range of issues that "must begin from a strong position reflecting our core priorities, which include North Korea's complete denuclearization."
Also at the top of that list, Hatch said, must be North Korea's human rights abuses.
"I believe it to be a moral and political mistake to confuse North Korea’s potential arms concessions with any potential change in its character or course," he said. "To achieve lasting peace in the region, we must demand that North Korea not only surrender its nuclear weapons. It must also cease its human rights abuses.”