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(2nd LD) Trump voices confidence in N.K. leader despite new threat

All News 14:22 January 01, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with comments by Pompeo, analyst, other details in paras 3, 8-17; CHANGES headline)
By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he believes Kim Jong-un will uphold his commitment to denuclearize after the North Korean leader threatened to show off a "new strategic weapon."

Hours earlier, North Korean media reported that Kim saw no reason to continue his self-declared moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, and warned that the world will soon see a "new strategic weapon."

His remarks suggested that Pyongyang could soon test an ICBM, experts said, as a way to force Washington to offer concessions in their stalled denuclearization talks.

This AP photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump speaking to the media at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Dec. 31, 2019. (Yonhap)

This AP photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump speaking to the media at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Dec. 31, 2019. (Yonhap)

"We'll see. I have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un," Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida as he arrived for a New Year's Eve party.

"I know he's sending out certain messages about Christmas presents, and I hope his Christmas present is a beautiful vase," the president continued, reprising his earlier joke in response to North Korea's threat to send an unwanted Christmas gift. "That's what I'd like, a vase, as opposed to something else."

Trump said the two like each other and get along, and that they are each representing their own country.

"We have to do what we have to do," he said. "But he did sign a contract. He did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization, and that was signed -- number one sentence: denuclearization. That was done in Singapore. I think he's a man of his word. So, we're going to find out. But I think he's a man of his word."

Trump was referring to an agreement he signed with Kim at their first summit in Singapore in June 2018, which committed the North to "work toward" complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for U.S. security guarantees and better relations with Washington.

But a second summit in Vietnam in February ended abruptly without a deal due to wide gaps over how to match their steps, and Pyongyang has refused to return to the negotiating table unless Washington first drops its "hostile" policy.

The U.S.' "real intention is to seek its own political and diplomatic interests while wasting time away under the signboard of dialogue and negotiations and at the same time keep sanctions" on the North, Kim was quoted Wednesday (Seoul time) as telling a key ruling party meeting.

Trump's praise of the North Korean leader suggested the president intends to keep diplomacy alive, not revert to the war of words the two men engaged in in 2017, when Pyongyang tested three ICBMs and a nuclear weapon.

An escalation of tensions, including an ICBM launch, could hurt Trump's 2020 reelection campaign as the president has held up the absence of North Korean weapons tests as a major foreign policy victory.

Earlier this month, Trump even said he would be "surprised if North Korea acted hostilely" because he didn't think Kim "wants to interfere with" the election.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added to the hopes.

"It remains the case that we hope that Chairman Kim will take a different course," he told Fox News. "We're hopeful that Chairman Kim will make the right decision, (that) he'll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war."

But the U.S. may not be doing all it can to end North Korea's nuclear program peacefully, according to Bruce Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea.

"The administration's 'maximum pressure' policy has never been maximum," he said in comments sent to Yonhap News Agency. "The Trump administration should ratchet up pressure on North Korea and foreign enablers of its prohibited nuclear and missile programs. Washington must implement a comprehensive strategy of military deterrence, containment, pressure, law enforcement and confrontation of North Korean human rights violations."


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