Updated at 4:43 p.m. | President Donald Trump on Wednesday reversed his position on the need for a massive buildup of the American nuclear weapons arsenal, calling such a move “unnecessary” after a report emerged alleging he told his team he wanted just that.
That report, citing multiple officials who were in the room for the briefing in question, describes Trump making his desires known after being shown a slide depicting the reduction in U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s.
The United States had about 32,000 nuclear warheads then and has drawn down to around 4,000 warheads now.
Trump, NBC reported, told his national security team he wanted to return to 1960s levels — an eightfold increase that would violate numerous treaties and come with a massive price tag that would blow up the annual Pentagon and federal budgets.
Trump’s first attack on the report and the network came Wednesday morning on Twitter, with him threatening to target NBC’s “License.” That was taken by some as his latest attack on the First Amendment, and he again allowed his frustration with the media to show later in the day.
With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
“It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write,” he said, referring to the NBC News report.
At the start of an otherwise set of closed-door meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he told reporters a buildup would be “totally unnecessary.”
He contended he favors modernizing the 4,000 or so now in the stockpile. Those, he said, he wants in “tiptop shape,” according to a pool report.
“I want them in perfect shape,” the commander in chief said of existing U.S. nuclear weapons.
But that amounts to a policy flip-flop for a former candidate who burned up the campaign trail with bombastic rhetoric such as calling for a nuclear “arms race.”
“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Trump posted to Twitter on Dec. 22.
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
The next day, he bucked his aides’ dismissive spin: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” Trump allegedly told MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski over the phone.
Reporters’ questions about Trump’s stance on the nuclear partially arsenal overshadowed the main topic of his meetings with Trudeau: trade and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump has ripped open NAFTA, aiming to negotiate with Canadian and Mexican officials what he promises will be better terms for America.
“We are discussing many things, including NAFTA,” Trump said, seated beside Trudeau in the Oval Office.
Steve Komarow contributed to this report.