WASHINGTON — The White House today defended President Trump’s salute to a North Korean general as an act of courtesy during this week’s summit in Singapore.
Footage aired by state-owned Korean Central Television showed dictator Kim Jong-un introducing Trump to small group of officials in a room. As Trump extends a hand to the general, the military official first salutes — a gesture reciprocated by Trump — and then the general shakes the president’s hand. Kim smiles while watching the exchange.
The North Korean general is No Kwang Chol, the country’s new defense minister.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at the daily briefing, “It’s a common courtesy, when a military official from another government salutes, that you return that.”
After the summit, Trump was asked in an interview with Fox News about praising Kim as “a very talented person” despite his horrendous human rights record and doing “really bad things.”
“Yeah, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things,” Trump replied. “I mean, I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.”
Sanders said Trump hasn’t “downplayed” human rights in his praise of Kim.
“Like you said, the president has raised North Korea’s human rights record, and some of the abuses of the North Korean regime in a number of occasions. He also raised them at the summit that took place earlier this week, but the focus of the summit was denuclearization and peace on the peninsula, and that was the purpose of the president’s conversation, and that was the focus of what took place there,” she said.
“A lot of people have done some bad things,” Sanders added. “However, the president hasn’t ignored the bad things that have been done by the North Korean regime.”
Asked which human rights issues Trump has raised with Kim — “gulag work camps, torture, public executions, the lack of freedom of religion or the press, kidnapping, women’s rights” — Sanders wouldn’t elaborate.