‘I prob­a­bly have very good re­la­tions with Kim’

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON: Don­ald Trump said he be­lieves he has de­vel­oped a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with North Korea’s leader de­spite their mu­tual pub­lic in­sults, sug­gest­ing he is open to diplo­macy af­ter months of es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions over Pyongyang’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

“I prob­a­bly have a very good re­la­tion­ship with Kim Jong-un,” the US Pres­i­dent told The Wall Street Jour­nal. “I have re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple. I think you peo­ple are sur­prised.”

Asked if he has spo­ken with Kim, Mr Trump said: “I don’t want to com­ment on it. I’m not say­ing I have or haven’t. I just don’t want to com­ment.”

Mr Trump has called Kim a “ma­niac”, a “bad dude”, mocked him as “short and fat”, and re­ferred to him re­peat­edly as “rocket man”. For his part, Kim has warned that he would “tame the men­tally de­ranged US dotard with fire”, re­fer­ring to Mr Trump.

Mr Trump framed his own com­ments as part of a broader strat­egy. “You’ll see that a lot with me,” he said about his com­bat­ive tweets, “and then all of the sud­den some­body’s my best friend. I could give you 20 ex­am­ples.

“You could give me 30. I’m a very flex­i­ble per­son.”

It has been a decade since the US en­gaged in for­mal talks with North Korea, with which it has no for­mal diplo­matic re­la­tions. Those “six-party talks” over Pyongyang’s nu­clear am­bi­tions, which in­cluded South Korea, Ja­pan, China and Rus­sia, stalled in 2009 over dis­putes about North Korea’s nu­clear and mis­sile ac­tiv­i­ties.

Since then, diplo­mats say, there have been mes­sages trans­mit­ted back and forth through un­of­fi­cial chan­nels, in­clud­ing “Track 2” talks in which former US of­fi­cials and Korea ex­perts have met in­for­mally with North Korean of­fi­cials.

But those talks don’t amount to of­fi­cial diplo­matic com­mu­ni­ca­tions. In Oc­to­ber, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said, without elab­o­rat­ing, that “we have lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark sit­u­a­tion, a blackout”.

Mr Trump has vac­il­lated be­tween seem­ing open to — and even ea­ger for — diplo­macy with North Korea, and dis­miss­ing the need or value for it. Soon af­ter tak­ing of­fice, he told Bloomberg News he would be “hon­oured” to meet Kim.

One top former US of­fi­cial said af­ter­wards that Mr Trump’s state­ment came in re­sponse to pleas from China that he open the door to diplo­macy with the young North Korean leader. But since then, Mr Trump has also seemed to dis­miss the value of di­rect talks with North Korea and its leader.

In Oc­to­ber, he un­der­cut Mr Tiller­son when the sec­re­tary re­ferred to lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to North Korea and said the ad­min­is­tra­tion was prob­ing for diplo­matic open­ings. In re­sponse, Mr Trump tweeted that Mr Tiller- son is “wast­ing his time try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Lit­tle Rocket Man”.

In the in­ter­view, Mr Trump praised China for its help in try­ing to pres­sure North Korea to end its nu­clear pro­gram, while adding “they can do much more”.

Some US and al­lied of­fi­cials have feared the re­cent North Korean open­ing to talks with South Korea, and the re­sult­ing talks that be­gan this week, were de­signed to drive a wedge be­tween the US and South Korea by open­ing a diplo­matic chan­nel that pre­cluded Wash­ing­ton.

That step, some thought, might have been de­signed to lower ten­sions with South Korea in the hope the gov­ern­ment in Seoul would, in turn, close the door to any po­ten­tial mil­i­tary moves against its nu­clear and mis­sile fa­cil­i­ties by the US. South Korea and the US last week agreed to post­pone ad­di­tional mil­i­tary ex­er­cises un­til af­ter the Win­ter Olympics next month in the South’s Pyeongchang, a move that Mr Trump said “sends a good mes­sage to North Korea”.

Late last night South Korea pro­posed hold­ing work­ing-level talks with North Korea on the lat­ter’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Olympics. The south’s uni­fi­ca­tion min­istry has sug­gested Mon­day for a meet­ing with a three-mem­ber del­e­ga­tion from the South to dis­cuss the North’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Pyeongchang.


‘Then all of the sud­den some­body’s my best friend’: Kim Jong-un in­spects the State Academy of Sci­ences in a pic­ture re­leased yes­ter­day

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