Following controversial remarks over the weekend downplaying recent North Korean missile tests and siding with the country over criticisms of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, President Donald Trump on Monday again stressed he is not overly concerned with Pyongyang’s latest missile launches.
Trump refused to characterize the tests as a violation of UN sanctions resolutions, and claimed he disagreed with other U.S. officials in the assessment that the May 4 and May 9 tests involved ballistic missiles.
The comments came during a press conference in Tokyo alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where the two leaders also stressed joint efforts to address the long-unresolved issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.
“All I know is that there have been no nuclear tests, there have been no ballistic missiles going out, there have been no long-range missiles going out,” Trump said at the press conference.
“My people think it could have been a violation, as you know. I view it differently, I view it as a man, perhaps he wants to get attention, and perhaps not, who knows,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter, and I think that someday, we’ll have a deal.”
But Prime Minister Abe appeared to contradict the President’s remarks moments later, stressing that “North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile” on May 9.
“This is a violation of Security Council resolutions,” he added. “It is of great regret.”
Trump’s top security advisor in the White House John Bolton also said in Tokyo over the weekend that there was “no doubt” the launch of “ballistic missiles” was a violation of UN resolutions.
These remarks were the subject of a strongly-worded criticism of Bolton by the North Korean foreign ministry on Monday, though Trump was not asked about the latest rebuke from Pyongyang during the press conference with Prime Minister Abe.
Directly following the second test in under a week on May 9, the U.S. Department of Defense also stated their assessment that North Korea “flight-tested multiple ballistic missiles,” according to NBC News.
But despite the rift in understanding, Abe sought to emphasize Trump’s “new approach” to direct talks with Kim Jong Un, and said he would like to emulate the process.
The Japanese Prime Minister repeated a statement he has made frequently that he would like to meet the North Korean leader “face to face,” including a talking point introduced earlier this month that this could occur “without attaching any conditions.”
Trump repeatedly declined to address reporters’ questions directly asking if he thought the early-May missile launches violated UN resolutions, instead focusing on prospects for continued progress in talks with Kim Jong Un.
“I talk to [Kim] a lot about it, and he’s very much into the fact that he believes, like I do, that North Korea has tremendous economic potential, like perhaps few other developing nations anywhere in the world,” he said.
“He knows that with nuclear, that’s never gonna happen,” he added. “Only bad can happen, he understands that, he is a very smart man, he gets it well.”
But the President also repeated that he is “in no rush at all” to make a deal with Kim Jong Un.
“The sanctions remain, we have our hostages back, we, as you know, are getting the remains – continuing to get the remains,” Trump said, adding that a “lot of good things are happening.”
It is incorrect, however, to say that the DPRK continues to return remains of U.S. service members who died on present North Korean territory during the 1950-53 Korean War, with Pyongyang having cut communication on the issue following the failed Hanoi summit in February.
On the issue of Japanese abductees, Abe said in a prepared statement Monday that Donald and Melania Trump “encouraged and gave comfort” to family members of victims during a meeting just prior to the press conference.
Saying the “abduction issue is the most important issue for the Abe administration,” he proposed the issue could be solved in direct talks with Kim Jong Un.
Trump also said in his prepared statement that he met “for the second time with a group of Japanese families, who have suffered the unthinkable heartbreak of having their loved ones abducted by North Korea.”
The U.S. President previously met the families of victims during a visit to Tokyo in November 2017, when relations with Pyongyang were considerably tenser.
“The United States will continue to support Japan’s efforts to bring these abductees home,” Trump added.
During the meeting with the victims’ families, attended by Trump, Abe, and numerous top officials from both sides, the U.S. President said according to a press pool report that “their stories are very sad… in some cases I’m hearing them the second time.”
Abe also reportedly said Trump brought up the issue with Kim Jong Un during their summit in Hanoi in late February, and that he is “convinced that President Trump has been making every effort” on the issue.
But it is possible that the President’s comments may invite criticism from North Korea, with the country’s primary party-run newspaper on Monday publishing a commentary castigating Japan for raising the abductee issue.
The article blamed Japanese politicians for exaggerating the number of abductees, and turned the complaint around by saying “Japan is a country which committed heinous abductions unprecedented in history,” referring to its colonization of the Korean peninsula in the first half of the 20th century.
“Far from making efforts to cleanse itself of the crime-woven past, Japan is intentionally linking the missing cases occurring in it to the DPRK. It is just the height of tricky propaganda against the DPRK,” the commentary said.
At Monday’s press conference, however, Abe said “we must come to terms with unfortunate past.”
“We must normalize the diplomatic relations – this line is unchanged.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: White House
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