Trump ‘praises’ Kim as S. Koreans doubt US ties
WASHINGTON: United States President Donald Trump offered some backhanded praise for North Korean leader Kim JongUn, calling him “a pretty smart cookie” in a television interview that aired Sunday.
The almost admiring remarks came amid soaring tensions with North Korea over its missile and nuclear programmes, with an alarmed Washington looking to China for help in reining in Kim.
Trump said he had “no idea” whether Kim was sane or not, but said the North Korean leader had faced a formidable challenge in taking over the country at age 27 after his father’s death in 2011.
“He’s dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others. And at a very young age, he was able to assume power,” Trump said in an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation.
“A lot of people, I’m sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it.
“So obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie,” he said.
“But we have a situation that we just cannot let — we cannot let what’s been going on for a long period of years continue.”
In Seoul, South Korean media yesterday warned of a “Trump risk” threatening the alliance between Washington and Seoul amid high tensions over the North’s weapons ambitions.
The countries have a defence pact and 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea.
But, Trump had said Seoul should pay for a “billion-dollar” US missile defence system being deployed in South Korea to guard against threats from the North.
He also pushed for renegotiation of what he called a “horrible” bilateral free trade pact that went into effect five years ago, calling it an “unacceptable... deal made by Hillary”, referring to former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
The remarks stunned Seoul, with South Korean politicians immediately rejecting his push for payment for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile battery.
“Trump’s mouth rattling Korea-US alliance” said a front-page headline in South Korea’s topselling Chosun daily yesterday.
“There are issues that are far more important than just money,” it said in an editorial.
“If either country keeps reducing the alliance to the matter of money or the economy, it is bound to undermine basic trust.”
Another major daily, Dong-A Ilbo, declared on its front-page yesterday: “Trump Risk... we need to come up with new strategy for Korea-US alliance.”
“We hope that Trump will be more careful with his words,” it said in an editorial. “Who’s going to smile if our alliance is shaken? It will be North Korea’s Kim Jongun and China’s Xi Jinping.”