President Trump did not appear to be ruling out military action against North Korea if the country pushes forward with its nuclear weapons program.
In an interview with CBS News’s John Dickerson that aired Sunday on “Face the Nation,” Trump said he would not be pleased if North Korea takes that step.
“He’s going to have to do what he has to do. But he understands we’re not going to be very happy,” Trump said of the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
Pressed by Dickerson on whether he means there could be military action, Trump did not confirm, but he also did not deny.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, we’ll see.”
The president also emphasized China’s role in putting pressure on North Korea and said he has established a good relationship with President Xi Jinping.
“I don’t think they want to see a destabilized North Korea. I don’t think they want to see it. They certainly don’t want to see nuclear on — from their neighbor,” he said of China. “They haven’t liked it for a long time. But we’ll see what happens. The relationship I have with China, it’s been already acclaimed as being something very special, something very different than we’ve ever had. But again, you know, we’ll find out whether or not President Xi is able to effect change.”
Trump’s comments come at a time when North Korea continues to flaunt signs of military strength, including missiles that are, theoretically, powerful enough to reach the United States.
Meanwhile, conflicting ideas on how to deal with the threat from North Korea have emerged from Washington and China.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday walked back statements of possible U.S. military action, even offering aid to North Korea if it would end its nuclear weapons programs, the Associated Press reported. Tillerson’s suggestions also included restarting negotiations with North Korea and fully enforcing economic sanctions on Pyongyang.
Despite Tillerson’s statements about imposing sanctions, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, did not talk about punitive steps his country might consider, according to the AP. Instead, he raised the possibility of North Korea suspending its nuclear and missile activities and the United States and South Korea halting military drills in the region. The two countries rejected the idea.
Shortly before Trump’s CBS interview aired, North Korea fired another ballistic missile — the 75th since Kim Jong Un assumed power in 2011 — early Saturday morning, but it exploded almost immediately. Trump then took to Twitter, saying North Korea “disrespected” China’s wishes.
Asked about North Korea’s recent failed missile launch attempts, Trump said he’d rather not discuss the matter, because he does not want to reveal his next move. But he said the United States cannot allow North Korea to have a better nuclear arsenal.
“It is a chess game. I just don’t want people to know what my thinking is. So, eventually, he will have a better delivery system. And if that happens, we can’t allow it to happen.”
Trump also praised the North Korean leader, describing him as a “pretty smart cookie” who, as a young man in his 20s, assumed control of an entire country. But, the president added, Kim must be stopped.
“We have a situation that we just cannot let — we cannot let what’s been going on for a long period of years continue,” Trump said. “And, frankly, this should’ve been done and taken care of by the Obama administration. Should’ve been taken care of by the Bush administration. Should’ve been taken care of by Clinton.”
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trump said he prefers a diplomatic approach to settle tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program but warned that a conflict is possible.
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump said. “We’d love to solve things diplomatically, but it’s very difficult.”
Anna Fifield contributed to this story.