Former US President Donald Trump dances while standing on a podium during a campaign event at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, on Jan. 14. (Reuters/Yonhap)
While on the campaign trail, former US President Donald Trump described North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “very smart” and “very tough,” while boasting that his cordial relationship with Kim made it easy for him to handle the North Korean nuclear problem.
His comments seemed to be an attempt to set himself apart from his rivals ahead of the first ballots being cast for the GOP presidential nomination in Iowa. It also appeared to be an attack on Joe Biden for failing to make any notable headway on North Korea issues.
At a Sunday (local time) rally at Simpson College in Indianola, one day before the Iowa caucuses, Trump stated, “Kim Jong-un [is] very smart, very tough, but he liked me, and I got along really well with him, and we were safe."
Although Trump and Kim exchanged insults including “mentally deranged US dotard” and “madman” in 2017, when Trump was first elected president, their relationship entered a honeymoon period after talks between the two countries took place in 2018.
The two leaders held three summits over 2018 and 2019, as well as exchanging letters 27 times. In “Letters to Trump,” a collection of missives received by the former president published in April 2023, Trump describes Kim as “very smart” and “cunning,” and claims that if he had won the 2020 presidential election, he would’ve come up made a deal with Kim regarding the North’s nuclear weapons.
Since leaving the White House, Trump has repeatedly declared that he played an important role in preventing a full-on nuclear war between the US and North Korea.
Trump’s comments about Kim came about as he tried to pull down his biggest rivals: Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN, and Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida.
He stated, “Nikki did a good job. She was OK, but she’s not ready to be president. I know it very well, the wrong thought process, the wrong policy — and honestly, she’s not tough enough.”
“We’re dealing with the toughest people in the world, we’re dealing with people that are on their game at a level that you’ve never seen,” he went on to say, giving China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin as examples in addition to Kim.
“We were going to have a war with [North Korea], and they have a massive nuclear stockpile, possibly as big as anybody, and we did a great job,” the former US president claimed, suggesting that his administration’s diplomacy averted catastrophe.
Trump harshly criticized DeSantis’ approach to North Korea’s nuclear weapons, saying that DeSantis showed “tremendous disloyalty.”
Despite Trump’s boasting, there are various diverging opinions on whether Trump’s North Korea policy helped stabilize the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
After the summit between North Korea and the US held in Hanoi fell through in February 2019 and South Korea and the US restarted joint military exercises that same summer, Kim seems to have given up on recommencing talks with both the US and South Korea.
It is possible to say that Trump’s policy failure is what led to the nuclear crisis that continues to this day.
By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent
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