U.S. President Donald Trump, on his first day on the Korean peninsula, signalled a willingness to negotiate with North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program, urging Pyongyang to “come to the table” and “make a deal.”
In a notable shift from his aggressive rhetoric toward North Korea, Trump took a more optimistic tone Tuesday, suggesting that “ultimately, it’ll all work out.” And while he said the United States would use military force if needed, he expressed his strongest inclination yet to deal with rising tensions with Pyongyang through diplomacy.
“It makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and make a deal that is good for the people of North Korea and for the world,” Trump said during a news conference alongside South Korean president Moon Jae-in. “I do see certain movement.”
Trump said he’s seen “a lot of progress” in dealing with North Korea, though he stopped short of saying whether he wanted direct diplomatic talks.
Trump tones it down
Trump also underlined the United States’ military options, noting that three aircraft carrier groups and a nuclear submarine had been deployed to the region. But he said “we hope to God we never have to use” the military options.
During his first day in South Korea, Trump lowered the temperature on his previously incendiary language about North Korea. There were no threats of unleashing “fire and fury” on the North, as Trump previously warned, nor did the president revive his derisive nickname for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, “Little Rocket Man.”
But he did decree that the dictator is “threatening millions and millions of lives, so needlessly” and highlighted one of the central missions of his first lengthy Asia trip: to enlist many nations in the region, including China and Russia, to cut off Pyongyang’s economic lifeblood and pressure it into giving up its nuclear program.
Moon, who has been eager to solidify a friendship with Trump, said he hoped the president’s visit would be a moment of reflection in the stand-off with North Korea and said the two leaders had “agreed to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue in a peaceful manner” that would “bring permanent peace” to the peninsula.
“I know that you have put this issue at the top of your security agenda,” said Moon. “So I hope that your visit to Korea and to the Asia Pacific region will serve as an opportunity to relieve some of the anxiety that the Korean people have due to North Korea’s provocations and also serve as a turning point in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.”
Protesters of all stripes
Hundreds of South Koreans took to the streets of Seoul for two separate demonstrations timed for Trump’s visit, one to show support and the other to voice disapproval of the U.S. leader amid concerns over North Korea’s nuclear threats.
Surrounded by thousands of police officers and a tight perimeter created by buses, hundreds of anti-Trump protesters rallied at a boulevard near the U.S. Embassy, holding banners that read “No Trump” and “No War.”
“We oppose the visit to South Korea by Trump, who has heightened the fears of war on the Korean Peninsula,” said one of the protesters, reading from a statement.
The group, which calls itself the “No Trump Coalition,” also plans to protest on Wednesday near Seoul’s parliament, where Trump is to make a speech calling on the international community to maximize pressure on North Korea.
Across the street, hundreds of Trump supporters waved the U.S. and South Korean flags and held signs that read “Blood Allies Korea + US.” They chanted “USA!” when Trump’s motorcade passed by the two protest groups for a meeting with Moon at the presidential Blue House.
More than 15,000 officers will be deployed to provide security during Trump’s two-day visit and they will monitor the demonstrations, according to the National Police Agency.
Police had unsuccessfully attempted to block anti-Trump protesters from marching in streets near the presidential palace, with the Seoul Administrative Court ruling that such a ban would infringe on the protesters’ freedom of assembly.
Trump began the second stop on his Asia tour with a visit to Camp Humphreys, a joint U.S.-Korean military base, but even as he walked among the weapons of war, he struck a hopeful note, saying: “it always works out.”
Much like he did in his visit to Japan, Trump indicated he would place the interlocking issues of security and trade at the heart of his visit. He praised South Korea for significant purchases of American military equipment and urged the two nations to have a more equitable trade relationship. Moon said the two agreed on lifting the warhead payload limits on South Korean ballistic missiles and co-operating on strengthening South Korea’s defence capabilities through the acquisition or development of advanced weapons systems.
Trump also pushed his economic agenda, saying that the current U.S.-Korea trade agreement was “not successful and not very good for the United States.” But he said that he had a “terrific” meeting scheduled on trade, adding, “hopefully that’ll start working out and working out so that we create lots of jobs in the United States, which is one of the very important reasons I’m here.”
Burden-sharing is a theme Trump has stressed ever since his presidential campaign.
Trump has not ruled out a military strike and backed up his strong words about North Korea by sending a budget request to Capitol Hill on Monday for $ 4 billion to support “additional efforts to detect, defeat, and defend against any North Korean use of ballistic missiles against the United States, its deployed forces, allies, or partners.”