+ A

Trump thinks trains are North’s ticket

Aug 28,2019
U.S. President Donald Trump continued his praise of North Korea’s economic potential as the Group of 7 (G7) Summit drew to a close on Monday, specifically mentioning the country’s railroads as a promising means of transportation.

At a joint press conference with French President and G7 host Emmanuel Macron, Trump pointed to North Korea’s unique location between China, Russia and South Korea that he claimed gave it “tremendous” economic promise.

“People want to get to South Korea, they’ve got to get there somehow. And if they’re going to do anything other than essentially fly, they want to go through,” Trump said. “So railroad and everything else, so many things want to happen there.”

This reference to railroads strikes an interesting note, since North Korea has been keen to modernize its dilapidated rail system in recent years to facilitate logistics and transportation in the country. Last year, it even broke ground on a joint project with South Korea to connect the two countries’ railways, but the initiative was tabled indefinitely due to Seoul’s adherence to international sanctions.

In another odd remark that had White House aides playing catch-up, the president further claimed his wife Melania “has also gotten to know” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, despite the fact that she did not accompany her husband with any of his three meetings with Kim.

Later that day, Trump’s press secretary Stephanie Grisham tried to make up for his fictitious claim, saying Trump “confides in his wife on many issues including the detailed elements of his strong relationship with Chairman Kim - and while the First Lady hasn’t met him, the President feels like she’s gotten to know him too.”

Trump’s remarks portray an unwavering sense of personal affinity toward Kim even as Pyongyang continues to tow the line with its string of weapons tests and public criticism of U.S. officials ahead of yet-to-resume negotiations over its nuclear program.

On Sunday, during a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump again excused the North’s recent weapons tests as not being in violation of his personal agreement with Kim, since there was no testing of nuclear bombs or long-range ballistic missiles.

Trump also mentioned North Korea’s potential at a bilateral summit with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-sisi the same day, during which he added that he doesn’t think “North Korea wants to blow” the opportunity to reach a nuclear settlement with Washington.

“Because if they blow it, it won’t be good,” he said, in what seemed to be his only warning toward Pyongyang at the summit.

From U.S. allies on the other hand, Trump at the G7 summit was more interested in gaining economic concessions rather than enhancing security coordination in regards to the threats posed by North Korea or Iran.

He got Japan to buy excess U.S. corn to offset economic losses dealt to American farmers as a result of the ongoing trade war with China - a deal that earned Abe criticism from domestic press in Tokyo as a form of sycophancy toward Trump. The president also called the United States’ combined military exercises with South Korea a “total waste of money.”

Korean analysts said that such a focus on U.S. economic interests with Asian allies from Trump hinted that his administration would seek a larger financial commitment from South Korea on the upkeep of U.S. troops as the two countries hold talks on burden-sharing in the next few months.

Perhaps testifying to his apparent disinterest on security matters, Trump made no public mention of Seoul’s decision to withdraw from an intelligence sharing pact with Japan, though multiple Washington officials expressed strong disapproval on the decision.

Abe, by contrast, did not miss the public opportunity at the G7 to slam South Korea on their diplomatic discord, claiming Seoul was “continuing to perform actions that hurt mutual trust” and calling on it to “keep promises made between countries.”

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]