Trump, who’s in Hanoi, Vietnam, this week for a summit with North Korea, called the country’s dictator a “great leader” and complimented the Hermit Kingdom’s economy.
“I think that your country has tremendous economic potential. Unbelievable. Unlimited,” the president told Kim, who’s ordered the deaths of his uncle and half brother, along with engaging in extermination, murder, mass imprisonment, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, and other crimes.
“You will have a tremendous future with your country,” Trump added.
Trump also tweeted about Kim, calling the North Korean leader his “friend” and describing the country’s potential as “AWESOME.”
Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea in 2016, spoke to The New York Times about Kim, describing the leader as “merciless.” Thae also called the North Korean economy a “failure,” explaining that nuclear weapons are used as a tool to unite the country and provide a justification for poverty.
“North Korean welfare is a failure. The North Korean people do not now believe in North Korean’s system and ideology. So he needs nuclear weapons to justify all of North Korea’s current problems,” he told the Times. “For instance, North Korean newspapers are educating the people that North Korea is poor. Why? Because North Korea spends so much money on nuclear development, and because of that nuclear development, North Korean became one of the superpowers of the world.”
Thae added: “So this is a really clear justification of economic failure.”
Trump has praised Kim in the past, going as far as to joke about wanting the same attention the leader receives from his people.
“He speaks, and people sit up at attention,” Trump said last year. “I want my people to do the same.”
The president met with Kim last June for their first summit together in Singapore, where Trump was ostensibly working on North Korean denuclearization. The two leaders signed an agreement that Trump described as “very important,” “comprehensive” and “far better” than expected.
However, the agreement merely said the Hermit Kingdom would work toward denuclearization, and multiple North Korea experts labeled it “vague” and “old news.”