In a Monday interview, President Donald Trump said he would be willing to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to discuss the latter’s nuclear weapons program under the proper circumstances.
“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” Trump told Bloomberg News. “If it’s under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that.”
“Most political people would never say that, but I’m telling you under the right circumstances I would meet with him. We have breaking news,” the president added.
Contrary to Trump’s assertion, many politicians do tout their willingness to meet with intransigent foreign leaders, and controversy frequently ensues. In a 2007 presidential debate, Senator Barack Obama declared his willingness to meet with just about every anti-American leader in the world because “the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush administration], is ridiculous.”
The leader of North Korea was specifically mentioned as one of the tyrants Obama would be happy to meet with. Obama notoriously maintained that he was willing to have such meetings without “preconditions,” leaving his defenders scrambling to argue that meetings without preconditions are not the same thing as “unconditional” meetings.
The phrase “I would be honored to do it” swiftly caused some problems for Trump, coming as it does less than 24 hours after his praise of Kim Jong-un as a “pretty smart cookie.”
“At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I’m sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie,” Trump said on CBS News’s Face the Nation on Sunday.
Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was executed as a traitor in 2013. There were rumors for some time afterward that Kim killed him by feeding him to a pack of wild dogs, but the true story was eventually revealed: Jang watched his two top deputies get torn to pieces by antiaircraft guns, reportedly fainting during the ordeal, and then was executed in the same manner.
Trump has generally been tough on North Korea – tough enough to lead regional analysts to wonder if hostilities might be imminent – so these odd bits of flattery might be a taste of carrot to go along with the stick. Perhaps the president was given some advice about flattering the North Korean dictatorship by Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom Trump has praised as being extraordinarily helpful during the North Korean crisis. His praise has been so effusive, and so contrary to Trump’s indictment of Chinese trade and military practices during the 2016 presidential campaign, that skeptics marvel at the unlikely “bromance” between Trump and Xi.
Granted, Trump did not say it would be an honor to be in Kim’s presence; he seems to have been describing the “honor” of personally negotiating an end to the North Korean nuclear missile crisis. Still, putting that word anywhere near Kim Jong-un’s name is hard for students of the monstrous regime in Pyongyang to swallow, especially when that regime threatens nuclear war against America and her allies on a regular basis.