WASHINGTON — On the eve of a UN Security Council meeting to be led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, President Trump acknowledged in an Oval Office interview that “there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea — absolutely.”
“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” Trump added in the wide-ranging discussion with Reuters.
Trump told the news agency that he’s hoping Kim Jong-un is a rational person.
“He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age,” the president said of North Korea’s dictator. “I’m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational.”
Trump expressed overwhelming confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping, even brushing off the prospect of speaking again with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, which angered the People’s Republic when the two spoke in December.
“I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well,” Trump said of China’s communist leader and intervention to stop North Korea.
“With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China,” he added. “I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t.”
Trump said he “wouldn’t want to be causing difficulty right now” for Xi by talking with Taiwan. “I think he’s doing an amazing job as a leader and I wouldn’t want to do anything that comes in the way of that.”
The president also said he wanted South Korea to pony up $1 billion for the THAAD missile defense system deployed in the country during an overnight operation on Wednesday.
Kim Ki-jung, a foreign policy advisor to front-runner presidential candidate Moon Jae-in, said that wasn’t going to happen. “Even if we purchase THAAD, its main operation would be in the hands of the U.S.,” Kim said, according to The Korea Times. “So purchasing it would be an impossible option. That was our topic when we were considering the options.”
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told CNN on Thursday that “all scenarios are on the table” to stop Kim “so it really is all up to North Korea.”
“Based on what North Korea does, we have a plan for every one of those scenarios. And I think that, you know, what we have tried to say to North Korea is we’re not looking to pick a fight, but don’t give us a reason to have one,” Haley said. “And so it’s now up to North Korea. What I will tell you is we have seen unprecedented great partnership with China in the fact that they have really put the pressure on North Korea.”
“We’re encouraging them to continue the pressure on North Korea because that is one country that can get them to move,” she added. “And I think that that goes back, again, to President Trump’s foreign policy relationships that he’s developing, the new relationship he has with China is pretty amazing.”
Trump also told Reuters that he didn’t think the White House daily grind would be so bad.
“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” he said. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”