Politics

Trump Not So Over the Moon on Korea Trade

President ignores questions amid ‘Morning Joe’ flap

President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in deliver joint statements in the White house Rose Garden on Friday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Updated 3:55 p.m. | Appearing alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on Friday, President Donald Trump declared that Washington has run out of patience with North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, even as he also disparaged the bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and Pyongyang’s southern neighbor, a longtime ally.

Several previous U.S. presidents have tried unsuccessfully to disarm the late Kim Jong Il and now his son, Kim Jong Un. President Barack Obama reportedly told Trump, then the president-elect, last year that he would have to solve the years-old problem during his term.

Under a blazing late-June sun in the Rose Garden on Friday, Trump, standing beside Moon, declared that “the era of strategic patience” in regard to North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs “has failed.”

“And, frankly, that patience is over,” Trump said.

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He urged Moon and other regional leaders to join the United States in enacting new sanctions aimed at altering the North Korean government’s behavior. On Thursday, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions on several Chinese firms and individuals that U.S. officials say have supported the North.

The U.S. president struck different tones Friday, saying that he wants “peace, stability and prosperity” in the Asia-Pacific region while also promising that the “United States will always defend itself” and will “always defend our allies.”

For his part, Moon called North Korea the most pressing issue facing Washington and Seoul. He floated trying a combination of phased-in sanctions and talks with the North Korean government, and urged Kim to return to the negotiating table.

Sitting alongside Moon in the Oval Office about an hour before they appeared in the Rose Garden, Trump told reporters that America and South Korea “have many options with respect to North Korea.”

Trump and Moon share a goal when it comes to the Hermit Kingdom: “complete dismantlement” of its missile and nuclear arms programs, a senior administration official this week.

Trump’s often-hawkish rhetoric about North Korea is notably different than that of some of his top aides.

For instance, the senior administration official told reporters Trump intended to bring up a strategy with Moon to counter North Korea’s missile and nuclear arms programs that has yet to be employed: “acute economic pressure.”

The official said there is “plenty more pressure that could be brought to bear,” including via unilateral sanctions and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Trading partners

Trade has also been a major topic of the Trump-Moon summit, with the U.S. president eager to discuss barriers to American automobile sales in South Korea and surplus Chinese steel that finds its way to America via South Korea, the official said.

Trump said he pressed Moon to help him create a “level playing field” in the two countries’ trade relations. Specifically, Trump pointed to barriers to the sales of U.S. automobiles there and South Korean “dumping” of steel into American markets.

But the U.S. president was optimistic a new U.S.-South Korean trade pact will address those and other issues. “Our teams are going to get to work,” he said, predicting a coming deal would be “great” for both countries.

During their brief Oval Office remarks, Trump said the two nations are “re-negotiating a trade deal right now,” adding that it “will be an equitable deal,” according to a pool report.

“It will be a fair deal for both parties. It’s been a rough deal for the U.S.,” Trump said in the Rose Garden, “but I think that it will be much different and will be good for both parties.” A White House spokeswoman had not responded an email seeking more information about such a new pact. The United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement was initially negotiated in 2007 under George W. Bush and went into effect in 2012 under Obama.

Notably, Moon did not utter the word “trade” in his Rose Garden remarks.

Trump and Moon also discussed America’s trade deficit with South Korea. Though it has shrunk in recent years, it “has caught the president’s eye,” the administration official said this week.

“The United States has many many trade deficits with many countries and we cannot allow that,” Trump said during a Friday morning meeting with his and Moon’s top aides. “We will start with South Korea right now. But we cannot allow that to continue. … For many many years, the United States was suffering from massive trade deficits. This is why we [are] $20 trillion in debt.”

No questions

After the duo talked about North Korea and trade, Trump stood at a microphone before a horde of reporters for the second time in five days — but as has become the norm, he fielded no questions and was strictly in broadcast mode.

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On Monday afternoon, Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood in the same spots. They spoke collectively for a half hour. They lead the world’s largest democracies. But they, too, shunned journalists’ queries.

A senior administration official on Wednesday explained the “joint statements” as opposed to a joint press conference, which Trump has held with multiple world leaders since taking office, this way: “That’s just the way the schedule worked out.”

So on Friday, the U.S. president gave reporters the official signal the event would end with no questions, saying, “Take care, everybody.”

As Trump turned and motioned to Moon that it was time to leave the sweltering Rose Garden, reporters unleashed a barrage of questions. Among them:

“Mr. President, did you blackmail two MSNBC hosts?”

“Will you apologize to Mika Brzezinski, Mr. President?”

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