North Korea Is Very Much On Trump's Mind As He Visits South Korea

Nov 7, 2017
Originally published on November 7, 2017 6:17 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Trump is preparing to address the National Assembly in South Korea. South Korea is the second stop on the president's five-nation tour of Asia. And Mr. Trump plans to use this speech to argue that other countries need to do more to rein in the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. That was a point he emphasized in a news conference with South Korea's president.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: North Korea is a worldwide threat that requires worldwide action. We call on every responsible nation, including China and Russia, to demand that the North Korean regime end its nuclear weapons and its missile programs and live in peace.

SIEGEL: Earlier today, Trump visited a military base in South Korea. He stressed that the U.S. is prepared to use force if necessary to defend itself and its allies. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president and joins us now. And, Scott, the speech to South Korea's National Assembly is one of the marquee events on the president's trip. What is he expected to say?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Robert, he's going to argue that North Korea's outlaw nuclear program is not just a threat to the immediate neighbors here in the area, South Korea and Japan, but, rather, other countries throughout the world. And because it's a worldwide problem, Trump says, it demands a worldwide solution.

SIEGEL: And to whom is he addressing that message?

HORSLEY: The president is particularly urging China, which is North Korea's No. 1 trading partner, to tighten the economic screws on Pyongyang. As he stood alongside South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, in that news conference, Trump said China has been cooperating. And he hopes to see that continue. In this news conference, you can faintly hear the Korean interpreter underneath the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: If we get China, if we get Russia, and we have some other countries - but we want to get most of them - we think that things will happen. And they could happen very quickly. This is a problem, by the way, that should've been done over the last 25 years, not now. This is not the right time to be doing it. But that's what I got.

HORSLEY: This is not the first time the president has complained about inheriting what he calls a mess. But he did also express some cautious optimism this week. He told reporters a bit vaguely that, quote, "Ultimately, it will all work out. It always works out."

SIEGEL: Now, the president also visited Camp Humphreys today. That's a big military base about 40 miles south of Seoul. He had lunch with American and South Korean service members there. And he continues, Scott, to talk about using force if necessary against North Korea.

HORSLEY: That's right. He described the three American aircraft carriers that have been sent to this region for exercises along with a nuclear submarine in a show of military force. His rhetoric today was less bellicose than it has been at times in the past. He was not talking about fire and fury or locked and loaded. But the pictures of the president alongside warplanes and uniformed troops both here in South Korea and in Japan does project an image of strength and resolve.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: I believe it makes sense for North Korea to do the right thing not only for North Korea but for humanity all over the world. So there was a lot of reason - a lot of good reason - behind it. With that, yes, I think we're making a lot of progress. I think we're showing great strength. I think they understand we have unparalleled strength. There has never been strength like it.

HORSLEY: And South Korea's President Moon says his country is also boosting its own military capabilities. It's doing that in part through the purchase of U.S. military hardware. That's something Trump has encouraged both here in South Korea and in Japan not only as a way to protect those U.S. allies but also as a way to promote defense company jobs back home in the United States and to whittle away at the U.S. trade deficit.

SIEGEL: Scott, as the president has been traveling throughout Asia, has he been talking about developments in America much?

HORSLEY: He has been repeatedly asked to respond to the church shooting in Texas on Sunday. He has addressed that as a tragedy, says it's a time for Americans to come together. He has resisted questions, though, about policies such as gun control, saying it's too soon for that.

SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley, traveling with President Trump through Asia, talking to us from Seoul, South Korea. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.