WASHINGTON — The United States would be willing to provide North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with “protections” if he agrees to a denuclearization deal, President Donald Trump said Thursday.
Two days after North Korea signaled that it was considering pulling out of a summit with Trump next month, the president, speaking to reporters at the White House, said his administration was still willing to “do a lot” for Kim in exchange for his commitment to give up the North’s nuclear weapons.
“He will get protections that are very strong,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “The best thing he could do is make a deal.”
Trump’s remarks came as he sought to clarify the U.S. position heading into a summit meeting with the North Korean leader planned for June 12 in Singapore. The president distanced himself from remarks made on Sunday by White House national security adviser John Bolton, who said in a round of TV interviews that the United States would pursue a deal similar to the “Libya model,” referring to an international accord reached with then-Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in the early 2000s, in which he agreed to dismantle his nuclear program. Gadhafi was later killed during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that was aided in part by NATO forces.
North Korea’s vice foreign minister issued a statement Tuesday denouncing Bolton’s remarks as an “awfully sinister move” aimed at weakening Kim’s power.
But on Thursday, Trump repudiated Bolton’s comments, saying the Libya model “was a much different model” than the approach the United States would take with North Korea.
“The model, if you look at that model with Gadhafi, that was a total decimation,” Trump said. “We went in there to beat him. Now that model would take place if we don’t make a deal most likely.”
Trump also said the United States was not seeking to depose Kim.
“He’d be there, be in his country; he’d be running his country. His country would be very rich; his people are tremendously industrious,” Trump said.
The president added that North Korea has not given any official notice to his administration that the upcoming summit is in jeopardy, and that officials there have been negotiating details about the meeting “like nothing happened.”
“We have not been told anything,” Trump said. “If the meeting happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, we go into the next step.”
North Korea abruptly canceled talks with South Korea on Tuesday, citing opposition to annual joint military drills being held by South Korean and American forces.
Asked whether the United States was considering suspending the drills, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that the Kim regime has long been aware of the “ongoing exercises that are routine,” adding, “at this point, we have no intention of changing it.”