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Monday December 11th, 2017 6:29AM

AP Interview: On North Korea, senator says China a problem

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — China is more of a problem than a partner for the United States in dealing with nuclear-armed North Korea, a leading Republican senator and ally of President Donald Trump told the Associated Press during a wide-ranging interview Thursday.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said China has been "lying for 25 years" about wanting to eliminate North Korea's nuclear capability. He accused Beijing of using North Korea as a diversion from economic warfare against the United States and other misbehavior.

"China benefits from a nuclear North Korea," said Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in an AP Newsmaker interview. "That's why they've been playing both sides of the street, saying one thing to Western officials in public but doing nothing to stop North Korea from getting nuclear weapons or now to get them to denuclearize."

Cotton's stance on China is more strident than the approach the president has taken with Beijing. But on other issues covered in the interview, Cotton, floated as a potential future CIA director, echoed Trump's insistence on listening to people accused of sexual misconduct and emphasized that no evidence has so far been found that Trump colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

Cotton shrugged off as "idle speculation" talk of him someday replacing CIA Director Mike Pompeo if Pompeo were to move to another administration post.

On North Korea, Trump has tried to cajole and flatter President Xi Jinping, hoping to make him an ally in the effort to pressure North Korea to abandon its advancing nuclear weapons program. During the presidential campaign, Trump accused China of "raping" the United States on trade. But during a visit to Beijing last month, he abandoned the confrontational posture and declared that he didn't blame China for taking advantage of the United States.

Cotton appears to be much more in line with Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser who has called for the United States to be "maniacally focused" on an economic war against China to narrow the trade deficit and pull manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

The interview also delved into the sexual harassment politics roiling the United States, from Hollywood and corporate executive offices to campaigns and Capitol Hill, with Sen. Al Franken seemingly on the brink of being the next casualty. A majority of the Senate's Democrats called on the two-term Minnesota Democrat to quit after the emergence of another accuser on Wednesday, a woman who said he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006. Franken denied the allegation.

In Alabama, GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore hopes to win next Tuesday's special election even as allegations of sexual misconduct are swirling. Multiple women have accused him of sexual misconduct decades ago, when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Cotton declined to say whether he thinks equal standards apply in all cases against Franken, Moore and Trump, who has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct and was recorded by "Access Hollywood" bragging about touching women without their consent. All three men have denied details of the accusations, if not the claims outright.

On Moore and others, Cotton said, voters "are going to make that decision, just like the people of this country made their decision last year on Donald Trump."

He added that women should be able to complain of sexual assault and the accused should be able to defend themselves.

"We shouldn't have trial by newspaper," he said.

On Russia, Cotton said it's simply a fact that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election because "that's what Russia does." But he emphasized that none of the congressional or Justice Department investigations have revealed evidence that Trump or his associates colluded in that meddling.

___

Associated Press Writers Richard Lardner and Matthew Pennington contributed to this report.

Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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