U.S. Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Rep. Lou Barletta, his Republican opponent in November's race for a Senate seat, both said on Tuesday they were cautiously optimistic that President Donald Trump's summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un was the first step in achieving a nuclear agreement.

“North Korea’s nuclear weapons program represents a grave threat to our national security and that of our allies," Casey said. He added that although he is optimistic, any nuclear agreement must be a robust and verifiable agreement. 

Casey also said he was concerned by the president’s statement that he would end joint military exercises with South Korea.

"It would be a mistake to turn our backs on our regional allies," Casey said. "The Kim regime is a serial abuser of human rights. I urge President Trump and Secretary (Mike) Pompeo to keep these concerns in mind and to implement a robust diplomatic strategy that keeps America safe.”

Barletta noted that Trump is making "historic headway with North Korea. Americans should be proud with this first step and stand behind the president as he negotiates one of the most difficult foreign policy dilemmas in American history.”

This was a major first step in a long process, Barletta said.

The summit was historic, said Zhiqun Zhu, a Bucknell professor of political science and international relations. "It went better than anyone might have expected. The signed agreement is short in substance and maybe disappointing for those who hoped for a breakthrough from the summit. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the meeting was highly cordial, laying a good foundation for further talks about specifics.  

"Of course," Zhu cautioned, "both Trump and Kim are unpredictable and may change their minds.  And one should not underestimate the daunting challenges ahead."

The good news, he said, is that North Korea has already frozen its nuclear and missile tests and destroyed a test site. Now Trump has promised to end the joint military exercises near North Korea. 

"These are important baby steps toward building trust and eventual peace on the Korean Peninsula," Zhu said.  "The days of 'fire and fury' seem behind us, at least for the time being. This alone is worth celebrating." 

Send comments to rdandes@dailyitem.com. Follow Dandes on Twitter @rdandes.

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