US President Donald Trump said on Thursday a major conflict with North Korea is possible in the standoff over its nuclear and missile programs, but he would prefer a diplomatic outcome to the dispute.
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump said in an Oval Office interview ahead of his 100th day in office today.
Nonetheless, Trump said he wanted to peacefully resolve a crisis that has bedeviled multiple US presidents, a path that he and his administration are emphasizing by preparing a variety of new economic sanctions, while not taking the military option off the table.
“We’d love to solve things diplomatically, but it’s very difficult,” he said.
He also said he wants South Korea to pay the cost of the US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system, which he estimated at US$1 billion, and intends to renegotiate or terminate a US free-trade agreement with South Korea because of a deep trade deficit with Seoul.
Asked when he would announce his intention to renegotiate the pact, Trump said: “Very soon. I’m announcing it now.”
Trump also said he was considering adding stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia to a European trip next month, emphasizing that he wanted to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. He complained that Saudi Arabia was not paying its fair share for US defense.
Asked about the fight against the Islamic State group, Trump said the militants had to be defeated.
“I have to say, there is an end, and it has to be humiliation,” he said, when asked about what the endgame was for violent extremism.
Trump said North Korea was his biggest global challenge.
He lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) for his assistance in trying to rein in Pyongyang. The two leaders met in Florida earlier this month.
“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. “With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t.”
Trump spoke just a day after he and his top national security advisers briefed US lawmakers on the North Korean threat and one day before US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to press the UN Security Council on sanctions to further isolate Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.
The Trump administration on Wednesday declared North Korea “an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority.”
It said it was focusing on economic and diplomatic pressure, including Chinese cooperation in containing its defiant neighbor and ally, and remained open to negotiations.
US officials said military strikes remained an option, but played down the prospect, though the administration has sent an aircraft carrier and a nuclear-powered submarine to the region in a show of force.
Any direct US military action would run the risk of massive North Korean retaliation, with huge casualties in Japan and South Korea, and among US forces in both nations.
Trump, asked if he considered North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to be rational, said he was operating from the assumption that he is rational. He added that Kim had taken over his nation at an early age.
“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,” Trump said. “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.”
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