Trump Warns That ‘Major, Major Conflict’ With North Korea Is Possible

April 28, 2017

By GERRY MULLANY New York times


HONG KONG — President Trump warned Thursday of the possibility of a “major, major conflict” with North Korea, in an interview in which he said he was seeking a diplomatic solution to concerns that Pyongyang was preparing to conduct another nuclear test.

In the interview with Reuters, Mr. Trump praised President Xi Jinping of China for his efforts to resolve the dispute over North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, but he cautioned that diplomatic efforts might fail.

“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” he said. “Absolutely.”

Mr. Trump’s remarks came amid signs that North Korea might soon conduct another underground detonation at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site despite Mr. Trump’s warning not to do so. China has played a mediating role in the crisis, as Mr. Trump has urged Mr. Xi to use Beijing’s leverage with North Korea, a longtime ally, to persuade it not to conduct a test.

“I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Xi. “He is a good man. He is a very good man, and I got to know him very well.”

In the interview, Mr. Trump actually offered some grudging praise for North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

“He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime,” he said. “So say what you want, but that is not easy, especially at that age.”

“I hope he’s rational,” Mr. Trump added of Mr. Kim.

The United States has been pressing the United Nations to impose more sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs. The diplomatic efforts have coincided with military maneuvers by the United States and South Korea in Pocheon, northeast of Seoul, South Korea, where the allies have demonstrated some of their latest weapons. In addition, the Michigan, a submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, has arrived in the South Korean port city of Busan. And a Navy strike group led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson has been sent to the Sea of Japan, which borders the Korean Peninsula.

Earlier this month, as tensions with North Korea were flaring, the Carl Vinson was said to be sailing north, toward the peninsula, when it was actually heading south, toward the Indian Ocean.

To protect against a North Korean attack, the United States is on the verge of making a new antimissile system operational in South Korea. Mr. Trump said in the interview that he would seek to have South Korea pay for the system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad, putting its cost around $1 billion.

Under its arrangement with Washington, South Korea was to provide land and build a base for the Thaad system, while the United States would pay for it and cover its operational costs.

In South Korea, Mr. Trump’s comment shook the election campaign to choose a successor next month to Park Geun-hye, the ousted president. Ms. Park’s decision to accept the Thaad deployment has been one of the most contentious issues on the trail, and Moon Jae-in, the leading candidate, seized on the remarks and, through a spokesman, called for a halt to the deployment.

“We must consider whether it conforms to the spirit of the alliance,” the spokesman, Youn Kwan-suk, said on Friday, accusing Mr. Trump of “demanding unilaterally and without close bilateral consultations that South Korea pay the cost” of the missile defense system.

Rebuffing Mr. Trump, the South Korean Defense Ministry said on Friday that it had no plans to pay for operating the system.

Mr. Trump also said that because of the United States’ sizable trade deficit with South Korea, he intended to renegotiate or end a trade pact with the country. That free trade agreement, called Korus, went into effect in 2012. It contains a framework for trade in both goods and services, and it covers environmental issues as well.

Like all free trade deals, it is designed to remove barriers to commerce. South Korea is America’s sixth-largest trading partner in goods, with $112.2 billion worth of commerce between the two in 2016, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative. South Korea has a $10.7 billion trade deficit in services with the United States, but a $27.7 billion trade surplus in goods.

In the Reuters interview, Mr. Trump also rejected an overture from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, for further discussions. His telephone call with her in December alarmed China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province.

“My problem is that I have established a very good personal relationship with President Xi,” Mr. Trump said. “I really feel that he is doing everything in his power to help us with a big situation. So I wouldn’t want to be causing difficulty right now for him.”

On Thursday, Ms. Tsai had raised the possibility of talking with Mr. Trump again. “We have the opportunity to communicate more directly with the U.S. government,” she said in an interview. “We don’t exclude the opportunity to call President Trump himself, but it depends on the needs of the situation and the U.S. government’s consideration of regional affairs.”

Mr. Trump also used the Reuters interview to reflect on his three-month-old presidency, saying, “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

 President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., earlier this month. Mr. Trump has urged Mr. Xi to use Beijing’s leverage with North Korea. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., earlier this month. Mr. Trump has urged Mr. Xi to use Beijing’s leverage with North Korea. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times


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