Exclusive: Trump says 'major, major'
conflict with North Korea possible, but seeks diplomacy
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[April 28, 2017]
By Stephen J. Adler, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President
Donald Trump said on Thursday a major conflict with North Korea is
possible in the standoff over its nuclear and missile programs, but he
would prefer a diplomatic outcome to the dispute.
"There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict
with North Korea. Absolutely," Trump told Reuters in an Oval Office
interview ahead of his 100th day in office on Saturday.
Nonetheless, Trump said he wanted to peacefully resolve a crisis that
has bedeviled multiple U.S. presidents, a path that he and his
administration are emphasizing by preparing a variety of new economic
sanctions while not taking the military option off the table.
"We'd love to solve things diplomatically but it's very difficult," he
In other highlights of the 42-minute interview, Trump was cool to
speaking again with Taiwan's president after an earlier telephone call
with her angered China.
He also said he wants South Korea to pay the cost of the U.S. THAAD
anti-missile defense system, which he estimated at $1 billion, and
intends to renegotiate or terminate a U.S. free trade pact with South
Korea because of a deep trade deficit with Seoul.
Asked when he would announce his intention to renegotiate the pact,
Trump said: “Very soon. I’m announcing it now.”
Trump also said he was considering adding stops to Israel and Saudi
Arabia to a Europe trip next month, emphasizing that he wanted to see an
Israeli-Palestinian peace. He complained that Saudi Arabia was not
paying its fair share for U.S. defense.
Asked about the fight against Islamic State, Trump said the militant
group had to be defeated.
"I have to say, there is an end. And it has to be humiliation," he said,
when asked about what the endgame was for defeating Islamist violent
XI 'TRYING VERY HARD'
Trump said North Korea was his biggest global challenge. He lavished
praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping for Chinese assistance in trying
to rein in Pyongyang. The two leaders met in Florida earlier this month.
"I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see
turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a
very good man and I got to know him very well.
"With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China.
I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it's possible
that he can’t," Trump said.
Trump spoke just a day after he and his top national security advisers
briefed U.S. lawmakers on the North Korean threat and one day before
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will press the United Nations Security
Council on sanctions to further isolate Pyongyang over its nuclear and
The Trump administration on Wednesday declared North Korea "an urgent
national security threat and top foreign policy priority." It said it
was focusing on economic and diplomatic pressure, including Chinese
cooperation in containing its defiant neighbor and ally, and remained
open to negotiations.
U.S. officials said military strikes remained an option but played down
the prospect, though the administration has sent an aircraft carrier and
a nuclear-powered submarine to the region in a show of force.
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President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters in
the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 27,
2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Any direct U.S. military action would run the risk of massive North
Korean retaliation and huge casualties in Japan and South Korea and
among U.S. forces in both countries.
'I HOPE HE'S RATIONAL'
Trump, asked if he considered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to be
rational, said he was operating from the assumption that he is
rational. He noted that Kim had taken over his country at an early
"He's 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what
you want but that is not easy, especially at that age.
"I'm not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I'm just saying
that's a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he's rational,
I have no opinion on it. I hope he's rational," he said.
Trump, sipping a Coke delivered by an aide after the president
ordered it by pressing a button on his desk, rebuffed an overture
from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who told Reuters a direct phone
call with Trump could take place again after their first
conversation in early December angered Beijing.
China considers neighboring Taiwan to be a renegade province.
"My problem is that I have established a very good personal
relationship with President Xi," said Trump. "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.
"So I would certainly want to speak to him first."
Trump also said he hoped to avoid a potential government shutdown
amid a dispute between congressional Republicans and Democrats over
a spending deal with a Saturday deadline looming.
But he said if a shutdown takes place, it will be the Democrats'
fault for trying to add money to the legislation to "bail out Puerto
Rico" and other items.
He also defended the one-page tax plan he unveiled on Wednesday from
criticism that it would increase the U.S. deficit, saying better
trade deals and economic growth would offset the costs.
"We will do trade deals that are going to make up for a tremendous
amount of the deficit. We are going to be doing trade deals that are
going to be much better trade deals," Trump said.
(Editing by Ross Colvin)
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