US President Donald Trump stated that he “probably” has a good relationship with Kim Jong Un, in what stands in stark contrast to the acerbic language he has used to describe the North Korean leader.
Trump has derided the North Korean leader as a “maniac” and referred to him as “little rocket man.” Kim has responded by calling the US president a “mentally deranged US dotard.”
“I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un,” Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised.”
Asked whether he has spoken with the North Korean leader, Trump told the newspaper: “I don’t want to comment on it. I’m not saying I have or haven’t. I just don’t want to comment.”
Kim has warned the United States that he intends to build a nuclear arsenal capable of hitting the United States, prompting threats of military action by Washington.
In November, Trump said while on a trip to Vietnam that becoming friends with Kim “might be a strange thing to happen but it’s a possibility.”
Kim, in a speech last week, said the “nuclear button is always on my desk,” prompting Trump to respond in a tweet that his nuclear button is “a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
In the Journal interview, Trump suggested his combative tweets are part of a broader strategy.
“You’ll see that a lot with me,” he said, “and then all of the sudden somebody’s my best friend. I could give you 20 examples. You could give me 30. I’m a very flexible person.”
Trump told the newspaper a decision by the United States and South Korea to postpone military exercises until after next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea “sends a good message to North Korea.”
North and South Korea held their first talks in two years on Tuesday and the North agreed to participate in the Winter Olympics in the South next month.
Trump claimed credit Wednesday for the inter-Korean dialogue, saying North Korea was feeling the pressure of a US-led campaign of sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile development. He said the US was open to talks with North Korea under the right circumstances.
No sitting US president is known to have spoken with a North Korean leader. The two nations have remained in a state of war and without diplomatic relations since the Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.
The US has not had formal negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear program since 2012. It has, however, retained back-channel communications through the North's diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York.
Trump discussed North Korea in a call Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron of France.
A White House statement said the two leaders discussed Macron's recent visit to China and committed to continue to apply pressure on North Korea.