In an exclusive interview with Reuters, President Trump said on Wednesday that Russia is helping North Korea get supplies in violation of international sanctions and that Pyongyang is getting “closer every day” to being able to deliver a long-range missile to the United States. As a result, Trump said he hoped the standoff with Pyongyang could be resolved “in a peaceful way, but it’s very possible that it can’t.”
Having learned his lesson from his recent WSJ interview, Trump declined to comment when asked whether he had engaged in any communications at all with Kim, with whom he has exchanged public insults and threats, heightening tensions in the region. He did, however, blame Moscow:
“Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea,” Trump said during the Oval Office interview. “What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.”
Which is ironic because it was a Chinese, not Russian ship, that was recently observed illegally selling oil to North Korea. It’s even more ironic that in the interview, Trump praised China for its efforts to restrict oil and coal supplies to North Korea but said Beijing could do much more to help constrain Pyongyang.
In any case, with North Korea still the major global challenge facing Trump this year, the president cast doubt during the 53-minute interview whether talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be useful. In the past he has not ruled out direct talks with Kim.
“I’d sit down, but I‘m not sure that sitting down will solve the problem,” he said, noting that past negotiations with the North Koreans by his predecessors had failed to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
“They’ve talked for 25 years and they’ve taken advantage of our presidents, of our previous presidents,” he said.
The remarks come after Trump’s statement earlier in January, in which he said he is “absolutely” willing to talk on the phone to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if certain conditions are met.
* * *
In addition to slamming Russia, Trump said Pyongyang is steadily advancing in its ability to deliver a missile to the United States. “They’re not there yet, but they’re close. And they get closer every day,” said Trump.
Trump also said he welcomed talks between North and South Korea over the Winter Olympics to be held in the South next month and said this could be an initial phase in helping defuse the crisis.
He would not say whether the United States has been considering a limited, pre-emptive attack to show the North that the United States means business.
“We’re playing a very, very hard game of poker and you don’t want to reveal your hand,” he said.
U.S. officials had spoken of Trump’s willingness to weigh a pre-emptive strike despite the risk of touching off a war. But in recent days Trump has appeared to signal more of an openness toward diplomacy.