Most say Trump mak­ing North Korea nuke cri­sis worse

The Mercury News - - News - By Matthew Pen­ning­ton and Emily Swan­son

North Korea’s nu­clear weapons de­vel­op­ment is spook­ing most Amer­i­cans, and two-thirds of them say Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s war of words with the iso­lated na­tion’s leader is mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion worse. Less than 1 in 10 thinks Trump’s com­ments are mak­ing it bet­ter.

Those are the find­ings of a poll by the As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search, as ten­sions between the ad­ver­saries es­ca­late and North Korea comes closer to its goal of hav­ing a nu­clear-tipped mis­sile that could strike the con­ti­nen­tal U.S.

The poll was con­ducted about a week af­ter Trump in­ten­si­fied rhetor­i­cal ex­changes with his coun­ter­part Kim Jong Un, dub­bing him “Rocket Man” and threat­en­ing in a Sept. 19 speech at the U.N. to “to­tally de­stroy” North Korea if the U.S. is forced to de­fend it­self and its al­lies. Kim re­sponded with dire threats and in­sults of his own, call­ing Trump “de­ranged” and a “dotard.”

“The in­sta­bil­ity of it all makes me very ner­vous,” said Diana Egan, 34, of Los An­ge­les. She de­scribed her­self as a mod­er­ate Re­pub­li­can but voiced anx­i­ety about how North Korea might re­spond to Trump’s tough talk and tweets. “You don’t know where the line is for them, and where they say, ‘I’m go­ing to push this but­ton.’ ”

The poll found that 65 per­cent of Amer­i­cans think Trump’s com­ments have made the sit­u­a­tion between the U.S. and North Korea worse, in­clud­ing 45 per­cent who think he’s made the sit­u­a­tion much worse. Only 8 per­cent think he’s mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion bet­ter.

Eighty-nine per­cent of Democrats, 59 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents and 38 per­cent of Repub­li­cans think Trump’s com­ments have made things worse.

Trump de­fended his tough ap­proach on Wed­nes­day as he con­ceded dif­fer­ences on North Korea with his own top diplo­mat, Rex Tiller­son, who ad­vo­cates keep­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity of ne­go­ti­a­tions with Kim’s au­thor­i­tar­ian govern­ment.

“I think per­haps I feel stronger and tougher on that sub­ject than other peo­ple,” Trump said. “But I lis­ten to ev­ery­body and ul­ti­mately I will do what’s right for the United States and re­ally what’s right for the world,” he said.

Although North Korea’s abil­ity to wed a nu­clear war­head with a lon­grange mis­sile and strike a tar­get in the U.S. re­mains un­cer­tain, most of the poll re­spon­dents are wor­ried about Kim at­tack­ing Amer­ica. In July, North Korea tested for the first time a mis­sile that could po­ten­tially strike most of the con­ti­nen­tal U.S.

Some 67 per­cent of Amer­i­cans are very or ex­tremely con­cerned about the threat North Korea’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram poses to the United States. Four in 10 are con­cerned about the threat posed to where they live specif­i­cally, more so if they live in ur­ban ar­eas.

“He (Trump) will be some­where safe. We got nowhere to go,” said An­thony Leroy Wa­ters, 61, of Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina. He said he lives 30 miles from a nu­clear power plant and fears the im­pact an at­tack could have on his lo­cal­ity.

In the poll, Democrats are more likely than Repub­li­cans to be con­cerned about where they live, 50 per­cent to 32 per­cent.

Over­all, 68 per­cent of re­spon­dents say they are con­cerned about the threat posed to U.S. ter­ri­to­ries like Guam, and 69 per­cent are con­cerned about the threat to U.S. al­lies, such as Ja­pan and South Korea — North Korea’s neigh­bors. That con­cern reg­is­tered higher among older Amer­i­cans than younger ones.

Some 75 per­cent of Amer­i­cans also think com­ments made by North Korean lead­ers have made the sit­u­a­tion between the two coun­tries worse. Eighty-three per­cent of Democrats and 70 per­cent of Repub­li­cans agree.

Mui Bal­tru­mas, 67, of Evanston, Illi­nois, dis­sented. He said the North Korean threat is be­ing blown out of pro­por­tion and Kim is more cal­cu­lat­ing and “not nearly as crazy as ev­ery­one thinks he is.” Bal­tru­mas, who leans Demo­cratic, said he was more con­cerned by the “John Wayne-style machismo com­ing out of the White House.”

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