Trump: Conflict with North Korea is possible

Trump says major conflict with North Korea is possible, but he prefers a diplomatic outcome.

Elad Benari,

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump told the Reuters news agency on Thursday that a major conflict with North Korea is possible in the standoff over its nuclear and missile programs, but stressed he would prefer a diplomatic outcome to the dispute.

"There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely," Trump told the news agency in an Oval Office interview ahead of his 100th day in office on Saturday.

He stressed, however, that he wanted to peacefully resolve the crisis.

"We'd love to solve things diplomatically but it's very difficult," Trump acknowledged, while lavishing praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping for Chinese assistance in trying to rein in North Korea. The two leaders met in Florida earlier this month, and officials said last week that Trump's strategy toward North Korea hinges on China.

"I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well,” he told Reuters.

"With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it's possible that he can’t," Trump said.

Trump's interview came just a day after he and his top national security advisers briefed U.S. lawmakers on the North Korean threat.

Following that briefing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a statement in which they stressed that the U.S. seeks the peaceful denuclearization of North Korea, but is also prepared to defend itself and its allies.

Trump, asked by Reuters if he considered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to be rational, said he was operating from the assumption that he is rational. He noted that Kim had taken over his country at an early age.

"He's 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age,” he said, adding, "I'm not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I'm just saying that's a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he's rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he's rational.”