President Donald Trump said he “would be honored to” meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un amid rising tensions between the countries, while also defending inviting Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte to visit the White House.
Trump’s comments were made to Bloomberg Monday, where he said that he would meet with Kim “under the right circumstances.”
“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” said Trump to Bloomberg.
“Most political people would never say that,” the president continued, “but I’m telling you under the right circumstances I would meet with him. We have breaking news.”
The president’s comments are not the first time he has expressed a willingness to meet with the enigmatic leader. A year ago, prior to clinching the Republican party’s presidential nomination, Trump told Reuters that he “would have no problem” speaking to Kim.
Thae Yong Ho, a North Korean diplomat who defected from the country last year, told CNN in January that Kim would likely be interested in such a meeting with Trump as “a good opportunity for him to open a kind of compromise with the new American administration.” But since that time, North Korean missile tests have escalated the rhetoric between the leadership of the two countries.
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Bloomberg’s story did not provide details on what would constitute an “appropriate” situation, but White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at Monday’s press briefing that the administration would have “to see [North Korea’s] provocative behavior ratcheted down immediately.”
“I don’t see this happening any time soon,” said Spicer later in the briefing.
The press secretary further defended Trump’s use of the word “honored” after ABC News’ Jonathan Karl noted that Kim was “somebody who has starved his own people.”
Referring to why it would be an “honor,” Spicer said. “He is still the head of state. So there’s a diplomatic piece to this. The bottom line is the president is going to do what he has to do.”
On Friday, North Korea engaged in a missile test for at least the sixth time in 2017. Following the launch, which saw a KN-17 missile travel 21 miles before a mid-air breakup, Trump tweeted that the country “disrespected the wishes of China.”
“Bad!” wrote Trump.
The president’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was asked if he would be open to meeting with North Korean leadership, as well as the heads of Cuba, Iran, Syria and Venezuela, during a debate Democratic presidential primary debate in 2007.
“I would,” said Obama, whose answer was criticized by rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton. During his eight years as president, Obama never held such a meeting.
In 2009, former President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea to assist in securing the release of two American journalists imprisoned in the country. Clinton, however, did not make the trip as an official representative of the U.S. government and did not meet with Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father who was the country’s leader at the time.
In additional comments to Bloomberg, the president stood firm on his overture to Duterte, the bombastic leader who has been widely-condemned by human rights groups for his endorsement of extrajudicial killings in his country.
“You know he’s very popular in the Philippines,” said Trump. “He has a very high approval rating in the Philippines.”
The Philippines’ crackdown on drugs has led to the deaths of at least 2,800 at the hands of police. Duterte has further compared the crusade to the Holocaust and said he’d be “happy to slaughter” as many as 3 million drug addicts.
Duterte has not yet accepted Trump’s offer and he reportedly told journalists Monday that he may be too busy to travel to Washington.
“I’m tied up I cannot make any definite promise…I’m supposed to go to Russia, supposed to go to Israel,” he said, according to local reports.