President Donald Trump is isolating himself from allies and even his own advisers on North Korea, eager to insist that his denuclearization efforts will be successful going into a 2020 re-election bid.
The widening gap was starkly apparent Monday morning, when Trump publicly disagreed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint press conference when asked about recent North Korean missile tests.
Abe had previously called the tests of several short-range ballistic missiles “quite a regrettable act” that violated a United Nations Security Council resolution, echoing language that Trump’s own national security adviser, John Bolton, had used on Saturday.
But the president on Monday, at the end of his short trip to Japan to meet the new emperor, insisted that he was not “personally” bothered by the tests and was “very happy with the way it’s going” in his efforts to engage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Notably, Trump said he did not think the tests violated the U.N. resolution.
“My people think it could have been a violation,” Trump said. “I view it differently.”
It was a striking break that revealed Trump’s desire to retain a talking point he has long used at rallies — that he’s responsible for pulling America back from the brink of nuclear war with North Korea. It’s a stance that has been increasingly difficult to maintain as talks between Washington and Pyongyang appear to have broken down after two summits between the two countries’ leaders. It’s also that Trump sees the issue almost singularly through the lens of his personal relationship with Kim.
Kim, Trump said, “is looking to create a nation that has great strength economically. … He knows that, with nuclear, that’s never going to happen. Only bad can happen. He understands that. He is a very smart man. He gets it well.”