Politics

Five things President Trump said about Kim Jong Un and North Korea that have critics seething

President Trump during the meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Getty Images
President Trump during the meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a document Tuesday asserting that the US president would provide unspecified “security guarantees” to Kim in exchange for the North Korea’s “commitment to complete denuclearization.”

However, decades of fraught relations with North Korea didn’t seem to stop Trump from publicly heaping praise upon Kim, who has been accused of sending thousands of North Koreans to brutal labor camps and deliberately starving people in his nation, according to a 2014 UN report.

Here’s a look at some things Trump said about Kim and North Korea on Tuesday that had some critics shaking their heads.

Kim Jong Un is ‘talented’ and ‘loves his country very much’

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After meeting with Kim for several hours, Trump told reporters as he stood next to the North Korean leader: “I learned he was a talented man. I also learned he loves his country very much.” Trump also said Kim had a “great personality” and was “very smart.”

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Trump’s quotes are at odds with the UN report, which noted that many North Koreans live in fear. He has also been accused of assassinating family members, including his own brother.

During a press conference a couple hours later, an NBC reporter asked Trump to expand on his comments.

Here’s the exchange the reporter and the president had.

Reporter: “The man you met today, Kim Jong Un, as you know, has killed family members, has starved his own people, is responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier. Why are you so comfortable calling him ‘very talented’?”

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Trump: “Well, he is very talented. Anybody that takes over a situation like he did, at 26 years of age, and is able to run it, and run it tough — I don’t say he was nice or I don’t say anything about it — he ran it. Very few people, at that age — you can take one out of ten thousand, probably, couldn’t do it.”

‘They have great beaches. You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean’

When a reporter asked Trump about a movie trailer-like video the president showed Kim, which focused on the potential prosperity of North Korea, Trump’s response had several people scratching their heads.

“Kim Jong Un is saying he’s wanting a brighter future with prosperity for his people, yet we know they’ve lived under oppression,” the reporter asked. “You showed him this video of what the future can be like. But do you have an idea specifically of the model that you would like to go towards? Economically, is he open to more economic freedom?”

Trump — who was a developer and real estate mogul before being elected — had some ideas on how North Korea could make some money.

“That was a version of what could happen, what could take place,” Trump said of the video he showed Kim. “As an example, they have great beaches. You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? I said, ‘Boy, look at the view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo behind?’ And I explained, I said, ‘You know, instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world right there.’ Think of it from a real estate perspective. You have South Korea, you have China, and they own the land in the middle. How bad is that, right? It’s great.”

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In fact, Trump’s comments were so unexpected, one Washington Post columnist said he thought they were fake.

Oppressed North Koreans are ‘one of the great winners’ of the summit

When a reporter raised the question of human rights, pointing specifically to the people brutalized by Kim’s regime in North Korea, Trump bristled and defended his talks with the iron-fisted leader, saying that oppressed North Koreans were “one of the great winners as a group” as a result of the summit.

Here’s the full exchange:

Reporter: “You mentioned that you have raised extensively the issue of human rights with Chairman Kim.”

Trump: “Yes.”

Reporter: “I wonder what you would say to the group of people who have no ability whatsoever to hear or to see this press conference — the 100,000 North Koreans kept in a network of gulags. Have you betrayed them by legitimizing the regime in Pyongyang?”

Trump: “No, I think I’ve helped them because I think things will change. I think I’ve helped them. There’s nothing I can say. All I can do is do what I can do. We have to stop the nuclearization. We have to do other things, and that’s a very important thing. So at a certain point, hopefully, you’ll be able to ask me a much more positive question or make a statement.

“But not much I can do right now. At a certain point, I really believe he’s going to do things about it. I think they are one of the great winners today, that large group of people that you’re talking about. I think, ultimately, they’re going to be one of the great winners as a group.”

‘North Korea did a great thing by going to the Olympics’

Trump made several head-scratching comments about North Korea’s involvement in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, which took place in PyeongChang, South Korea. Trump at one point claimed that North Korea’s involvement in the Games led to tickets selling “like wildfire,” adding: “North Korea did a great thing by going to the Olympics. . . It was a great success. He did a great thing.”

When a different reporter asked a question later, Trump again brought up the Olympics, saying: “They went to the Olympics. They took an Olympics that was going to be a massive failure that maybe wouldn’t have even opened, and they made it a tremendous success by agreeing to participate.”

Here’s a look at both exchanges.

Reporter: “What was it about that first interaction with Chairman Kim this morning that that made you decide not to walk away after you said that you would know within the first minute if he was sincere or not?”

Trump: “. . . From the beginning, we got along. But there’s been a lot of groundwork. This wasn’t like we went and we started talking about — as you know, right? We didn’t just come in and start talking about these very complex subjects that have been going on for 70 years. We’ve been discussing this for months. And, you know, once the rhetoric stopped, once they did a great thing — you know, North Korea did a great thing by going to the Olympics. Because the Olympics — and President Moon will tell you this — the Olympics was not exactly doing great. People didn’t feel like being bombed out of the Opening Ceremonies. You know, they weren’t exactly selling tickets. And as soon as the Chairman — Chairman Kim — said, ‘Let’s participate in the Olympics,’ it sold like wildfire and was a great success as an Olympics. It was a great success. He did a great thing.”

Second exchange:

Reporter: “Do you now see Kim Jong Un as an equal?”

Trump: “In what way?”

Reporter: “You just showed a video that showed you and Kim Jong Un on equal footing in discussing the future of —”

Trump: “No. I think that — I don’t view it that way. See, I don’t view it that way. I’ll do whatever it takes to make the world a safer place. If I have to say I’m sitting on a stage — I mean, I understand what you’re getting at. If I have to say I’m sitting on a stage with Chairman Kim and that’s going to get us to save 30 million lives — could be more than that — I’m willing to sit on the stage. I’m willing to travel to Singapore very proudly, very gladly.

“Again, I — you know, other than the fact that it is taking my time, they have given up a tremendous amount. They’ve given it up even before. And even add the Olympics to it. You know, you could add the Olympics to the question. They went to the Olympics. They took an Olympics that was going to be a massive failure that maybe wouldn’t have even opened, and they made it a tremendous success by agreeing to participate. Add that to the list of things that they’ve done.”

Many people online were appearing to ponder Trump’s comments.

Recordings of the talks aren’t necessary — because Trump has ‘one of the great memories of all time’

When a reporter appeared to ask if there were any transcripts of Trump’s talks with Kim, the president’s answer seemed to waffle before ultimately landing on a claim he has made before.

Here’s the exchange, as provided by the White House:

Reporter: “Is there a transcript of (inaudible)?”

Trump: “Mike, do they have a transcript? They probably have a rough transcript, which you can give us, if you have one.”

Reporter: “So that was recorded?”

Trump: “No, they didn’t record it. I don’t think they recorded it. Are there any recordings of it? I wish there were. Because it is interesting stuff.”

Reporter: “(Inaudible question.)”

Trump: “I don’t. We probably have some notes or something. But they have, actually, detailed notes, I would imagine. But we had a great conversation. It was a very heart-felt conversation.”

Reporter: “How do you believe (inaudible) verify —”

Trump: “Well, I don’t have to verify because I have one of the great memories of all time. So I don’t have to. Okay? Okay?”

Trump and Kim spent part of their time Tuesday meeting one-on-one — alone but for a pair of translators — raising concerns about the risk of holding such a monumental meeting with barely anyone to bear witness. The news of the private meeting unleashed a torrent of criticism on social media from national security veterans, as some worried that having no staffers there could affect the accuracy of the meeting’s notes — which could lead to a he-said-he-said showdown later.

Christina Prignano of the Globe staff contributed to this report.