So far into his presidency, Donald Trump has a fraught relationship with many foreign leaders — but none more so than North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un. So, it must have been a surprise to The Wall Street Journal reporters who thought they heard Trump say that he had a good relationship with Kim — because as far as anyone can tell, Trump and Kim Jong Un are definitely not friends.
There's been a mix-up regarding what exactly Trump said while talking about Kim in an interview with the Journal. Trump, for his part, claims that the recording shows him saying something different than what the newspaper reported. Instead of "I probably have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un," as the Journal reported, the president claims that he said "I'd have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un."
The quote from the Wall Street Journal has Trump making a claim that's hard for anyone to take seriously, based on all of the most infamous public statements about Kim that Trump has ever made. However, Trump has also said at various times that he's open to diplomatic negotiation, and he said that both the insults lobbed at Kim and the openness are part of a hot-and-cold strategy that he's used in the past.
"You'll see that a lot with me," he told the Journal, talking about the way he's treated Kim. "And then all of the sudden somebody's my best friend. I could give you 20 examples. You could give me 30. I'm a very flexible person."
Looking back through what he's said about Kim, though, it's difficult to imagine that this strategy will work in this particular case. In August, memorably, Trump seemed to threaten North Korea with nuclear war, in what he said was a statement meant to deter them from continuing to test nuclear weapons.
"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen," Trump said. In a specific reference to Kim himself, Trump then continued:
He has been very threatening — beyond a normal statement — and as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power the likes of which the world has never seen before.
Kim, rather than backing down, then responded with his own threats of a nuclear strike against the U.S. This was the first time Trump had used this kind of language with Kim, and it didn't exactly start things out on the right foot.
Trump also didn't shy away from insulting Kim in no uncertain terms when he spoke at the U.N. General Assembly. He claimed that the U.S. would "have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea" if the so-called Hermit Kingdom ever threatened the U.S. or its allies, while also calling the country a "band of criminals" and its leader "Rocket man," who he said was "on a suicide mission for himself."
Soon after that, Kim struck back with his own speech aimed at Trump. He called the president a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard" and said that Trump was a "a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician."
Trump responded to this with an angry tweet:
Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!
Since then, Trump has kept up a steady stream disparaging comments going Kim's way, calling him at various times a "sick puppy" and "Little Rocket Man." Most recently, though, he took things into a higher tenor by referring to the size and relative power of his nuclear button, as compared to the one that Kim had boasted about having on his desk.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the "Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times." Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
During the Wall Street Journal interview, the reporter asked Trump if he had spoken to Kim, and Trump declined to answer the question. A senior Trump aide then told CNN that if any such talks had occurred, no one knew about them.
Either way, the belligerence of Trump and Kim's public communication does not suggest that they currently have a good relationship — and it also presents a potentially insurmountable barrier, if Trump should ever decide that he wants to attempt to mend that relationship.