President Donald Trump said he doesn’t know if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is still building nuclear weapons — but, the U.S. leader noted, “I hope not.”
Speaking to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last week about the potential nuclear threat still posed by Pyongyang, Trump waxed lyrical about the “very strong relationship” he’d forged with the “very smart” Kim, who he described as someone who “understands” and “respects me.”
“He’s a very tough guy. He’s a very smart person. He doesn’t treat a lot of people very well, but he’s been treating me well,” the president told Stephanopoulos in a wide-ranging interview that aired Sunday night.
“Now, at some point that may change. And then I’ll have to change, too,” Trump continued. “But right now, we have a very good, you know, relationship. We have a really very strong relationship.”
Asked whether he thought Kim could be “playing” him, Trump told Stephanopoulos that U.S. sanctions were still in place against North Korea and pointed to the return of hostages and war remains as evidence of his administration’s success in dealing with Kim’s regime.
“I put on sanctions. The sanctions are on. We’ve gotten our hostages back. We’ve gotten ― the remains. And they continue to come back,” Trump said.
The president’s assertion contradicted a statement made by the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency last month saying efforts to retrieve American remains from North Korea had been suspended because of the country hasn’t responded.
“DPRK officials have not communicated with DPAA since the Hanoi Summit” between Trump and Kim earlier this year, a spokesman for the agency told CNN. “As a result, our efforts to communicate with the Korean People’s Army regarding the possible resumption of joint recovery operations for 2019 has been suspended.”
Pressed to answer whether Kim was “still building nuclear weapons,” Trump said he didn’t know but that the North Korean leader had “promised ... me he wouldn’t be testing.”
From the interview:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think he’s still building nuclear weapons?
TRUMP: I don’t know. I hope not. He promised me he wouldn’t be. He promised me he wouldn’t be testing. I think he’d like to meet again. And I think he likes me a lot. And I think ― you know, I think that we have a chance to do something.
The president also reiterated his belief that North Korea could be “so rich” ― something Kim “knows” and “wants.”
“He’s a very smart person. And that country has ― almost of any undeveloped country anywhere in the world, that country has the chance to be economically a behemoth,” Trump said. “It’s a phenomenal location. That country can be so rich. And he knows that. And I think he really wants to do that,” Trump said, adding that Kim “has to do it in a non-nuclear way.”