Barely more than a week after boasting that he has a bigger nuclear button than Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, President Trump portrayed himself on Thursday as having good relations with the autocratic leader of the rogue nation.
“I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un,” Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. “I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised.”
Mr. Trump declined to say whether he had directly spoken with his North Korean counterpart. “I’m not saying I have or haven’t,” he said.
But the rosy description of his relationship with the North Korean leader was another jarring reversal in tone from a president who has spoken admiringly of Mr. Kim in some moments and mocked him in others, referring to him as a fat “Little Rocket Man.”
In September, the president called Mr. Kim the leader of a “band of criminals” and later said he was a “madman.” Two months later, he called Mr. Kim “a sick puppy.” Mr. Kim has sometimes responded to the taunts, at one point calling Mr. Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and “a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician.”
The current, more positive, state of the president’s relationship with Mr. Kim, according to Mr. Trump, comes in the midst of a modest thaw in relationsbetween North Korea and South Korea, whose officials met, face-to-face, for talks for the first time in recent days. Those talks have not included Mr. Trump, who said in Thursday’s interview that his shifting commentary about the North Korean leader was part of a broader strategy.
“You’ll see that a lot with me,” Mr. Trump said, referring to the difference between his friendly tone toward Mr. Kim and his previous tweets calling him a “maniac” and a “short and fat” person. “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.”
It is unclear whether that flexibility suggests a more permanent retreat from the angry exchanges with North Korea that Mr. Trump often stoked during his first year in office. In response to North Korean ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests, the president has repeatedly issued dramatic threats of military action by the United States.
Last summer, Mr. Trump threatened “fire and fury” against North Korea if Mr. Kim and his nation endangered the United States.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump said during a visit to his golf club in New Jersey. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
In the interview on Thursday, Mr. Trump said he expected that North Korea’s effort to talk with South Korea is an attempt to drive a wedge between the South Koreans and the United States. He said that probably was their motivation, and he suggested that he should know.
“The difference is I’m president, other people aren’t,” Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal. “And I know more about wedges than any human being that’s lived.”
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