Politics

Even on North Korea, Trump Shifts Wildly

Pivot toward talks is latest example of an ever-shifting presidency

A congressional delegation led by Sen. James M. Inhofe visited the DMZ recently as President Trump again shifted, saying he will talk to North Korea. (Photo by Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

After months of bluster and threats toward North Korea, President Donald Trump on Saturday announced his administration will hold talks with the Kim government about its nuclear arms and long-range missile programs.

Then-President Barack Obama told Trump before he was sworn in that North Korea would be the most-pressing global problem he would need solve during his term. Since, Trump has threatened to attack the North — even at times suggesting he would unleash America’s atomic arsenal to take out the North’s. His sudden pivot toward talks is just the latest example of how the 45th president’s policy stances often change suddenly.

“They, by the way, called up a couple of days ago and said, ‘We would like to talk,’” Trump said of the Kim government Saturday night during remarks at the annual Gridiron Dinner. “And I said, ‘So would we, but you have to de-nuke, you have to de-nuke.’”

The commander in chief then turned to one of his most-used verbal crutches when he wants to avoid promising a specific outcome.

“So, let’s see what happens. Let’s see what happens,” Trump said of the coming talks, according to a pool report released by the White House.

“But we will be meeting and we’ll see if anything positive happens. It’s been a long time,” Trump said. “It’s a problem that should have been fixed a long time ago.”

After some of his critics warned he might start a major Asian conflict — or even a nuclear one — Trump on Saturday night softened his brash tone on the North, saying “maybe positive things are happening.”

“I hope that’s true and I say that in all seriousness. I hope that’s true, he said.

Trump’s willingness to talk to the North yet just another abrupt shift on a policy stance, sudden changes in stances that have come to, in part, define his chaotic first 13 months in office. Trump once threatened to “destroy” North Korea over its refusal to give up its nuclear arms and long-range missiles.

Watch: Senators Mum on Trump’s UN Threat to ‘Totally Destroy’ N. Korea if Attacked

The U.S. president long vowed he would never hold talks with Kim Jong Un’s government over its nuclear and missile program. For instance, on Aug. 30 Trump tweeted this saber-rattling message: “Talking is not the answer!

That tweet came two days after the North launched a long-range missile over Japan’s northernmost island.

Earlier that month on Aug. 9, Trump issued an implicit warning to North Korea, tweeting the U.S. nuclear arsenal is “far stronger and more powerful” than it ever has been.

The previous day, Trump warned the United States would hit the North with “fire and fury” if Pyongyang repeated threats that it would strike American targets, Trump took to Twitter and appeared to signal he is prepared to use nuclear weapons against North Korea if conflict breaks out.

On Aug. 9, talks were not on the table, with the president tweeting that his “first order” after taking office was to “renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal.” He then added that it is “far stronger and more powerful than ever before....”

He began the morning of Aug. 9 by retweeting several Fox News posts, including one declaring Guam-based U.S. Air Force jets are prepared to “fight tonight” should tensions with the North lead to war.

But on Saturday night, Trump went as far as to say “direct talks” with Kim Jong Un are possible.

“I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un. I just won’t,” Trump said. “As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that’s his problem, not mine. ... He must be a fine man.

“Do you think he’s a fine man?” the president asked of a man he has long derisively dubbed “Little Rocket Man.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.