The Wall Street Journal asked Donald Trump yesterday whether North Korea is “trying to drive a wedge” between the United States and South Korea, which certainly appears to be the case.
“If I were them I would try,” the president replied. “But the difference is I’m president; other people aren’t. And I know more about wedges than any human being that’s ever lived.”
And while that seemed like an odd thing for a person to brag about, the rest of Trump’s answer was even more peculiar.
“With that being said, President Xi has been extremely generous with what he’s said, I like him a lot. I have a great relationship with him, as you know I have a great relationship with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea.
“I have relationships with people, I think you people are surprised.”
Hmm. Trump has invested quite a bit of energy in publicly mocking the North Korean dictator and coming up with increasingly insulting nicknames. Trump has ridiculed Kim Jong-un’s height and weight, threatened to rain “fire and fury” onto his country, and repeatedly ridiculed the despot as “Rocket Man.”
For his part, Kim Jong-un has responded by describing the American president as a “mentally deranged dotard.”
And yet, there was Trump yesterday, saying he “probably” has a “very good relationship” with the North Korean leader – which understandably puzzled nearly everyone.
The Wall Street Journal quickly followed up by asking whether Trump has spoken to Kim Jong-un. “I don’t want to comment on it – I don’t want to comment,” he replied. “I’m not saying I have or I haven’t.”
At this point, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe Trump spoke to the North Korean leader. Perhaps the president wants to pretend he had the conversation for reasons that only make sense to Trump. Maybe he’s playing a little game that will prove to be pointless. Perhaps this is his clumsy way of signaling an openness to diplomacy. With Trump, all speculation is inherently tricky.
Indeed, it’s not inconceivable that the president will soon deny ever having said what he was quoted as saying, and will dismiss the whole story as “fake news.” It wouldn’t be entirely out of character.
But toward the end of the exchange in the interview, the WSJ noted Trump’s “combative” tweets toward the North Korean leader, prompting the president to respond, “Sure, you see that a lot with me and then all of a sudden somebody’s my best friend. I could give you 20 examples. You give me 30. I’m a very flexible person.”
Watch this space.
Postscript: For what it’s worth, it must have stung Trump a bit when Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Kim Jong-un yesterday, describing him as “shrewd and mature,” and telling Russian journalists that the North Korean leader has “obviously won this round” with his conflict with the West.
Second Postscript: The last time Trump said “no comment” when asked about whether or not he’d spoken to a foreign leader came in May 2016, when Fox News asked about possible communications between Trump and Putin. “Yeah, I have no comment on that,” Trump said at the time. “No comment.”