A military conflict between the United States and North Korea is “absolutely” possible, U.S. President Donald Trump said during an interview with Reuters published Thursday night EDT.
Speaking two days ahead of his 100th day in office, Trump said that he hopes Kim Jong Un is a rational leader and added that Washington would like to resolve the current conflict “diplomatically.”
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump said. “We’d love to solve things diplomatically, but it’s very difficult.”
The interview, held at the Oval Office, was published a day after a classified briefing on North Korea by the administration to which all 100 U.S. Senators were invited.
During the interview Trump also appeared to praise Kim Jong Un, saying his rise to power was “a very hard thing.”
“He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So, say what you want, but that is not easy, especially at that age,” Trump said.
“I’m not giving him credit… I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational.”
The comment echoes statements made during the early days of his presidential campaign in January last year, when Trump stated that “you gotta give him credit,” referring to Kim Jong Un, who “wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one.”
In another nod to comments made on the campaign trail, Reuters reported that Trump had also suggested that he wanted South Korea to pay the $1 billion cost of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system’s deployment in the South, and that he planned to renegotiate the U.S. – Korea Free Trade Agreement.
“I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid. It’s a billion dollar system,” Trump said. “It’s phenomenal, shoots missiles right out of the sky.”
Key THAAD components were deployed in South Korea earlier in the week, amid heavy local protests.
In response to Trump’s comments, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) released a statement reaffirming its position that the United States should bear the costs of the deployment.
“Following the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), there is no change in (our) basic stance that ‘our government will provide the land and infrastructure, and the U.S. side will pay for the deployment of the THAAD system and its operation and management.’,” the MND said in an official statement.
The President also complimented Chinese President Xi Jinping, who he has increasingly praised in recent weeks – a marked departure from the strident anti-Chinese rhetoric on trade and North Korea which dominated his campaign and the early days of his administration.
“I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man, and I got to know him very well,” Trump said.
“With that being said, he loves China, and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t.”
About two weeks ago, on April 12, the Chinese ruling party-affiliated newspaper the Global Times warned Pyongyang that the Beijing government was considering “unprecedented” sanctions on North Korea – including a restriction on oil exports.
On the same day, Chinese President Xi called for “peaceful resolution” to the escalating tensions between North Korea and the U.S.
Two days after China’s warning, Beijing’s “cooperation” with Washington was criticized by the North Korean ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun which said, “with the cooperation of ‘somebody,’ the U.S. is planning to collapse our system.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: White House
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