‘I probably have very good relations with Kim’
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