Back in 1999, Donald Trump said if he were president he would negotiate with North Korea but would ultimately be willing to launch a preemptive strike against the country to stop it from developing nuclear weapons.
“First I’d negotiate,” Trump told the late journalist Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.”
“I’d negotiate like crazy and I’d make sure that we tried to get the best deal possible,” he continued.
The celebrity real estate magnate made the comments after announcing plans to form an exploratory committee to run for president in 2000 under the Reform Party banner. He didn’t ultimately campaign for the third party’s nomination.
In the 1999 interview, Trump suggested that by 2004, North Korea would likely have nuclear weapons pointed all over the world but especially at the U.S. He said nuclear proliferation is a bigger problem than other issues that typically get our attention, like the economy or Social Security.
“The biggest problem this country has is nuclear proliferation. And we have a country out there, North Korea, which is sort of whacko, which is not a bunch of dummies, and they are going out and they are developing nuclear weapons. And they’re not doing it because they’re having fun doing it. They’re doing it for a reason.”
Trump said he’d be open to a nuclear first strike if negotiations were to fall through and that the problem ought to be solved before North Korea has “warheads all over the place.”
Trump’s comments about North Korea, and tensions with Pyongyang, have escalated sharply since that old interview. The country’s Stalinist regime has changed heads, and current Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has startled the world with tests of nuclear and ICBM programs.
In January 2016, during the Republican presidential primary, Trump said Kim deserves some credit for running his country despite being “like a maniac.”
“If you look at North Korea, this guy, I mean, he’s like a maniac, OK? And you’ve got to give him credit. How many young guys — he was like 26 or 25 when his father died — take over these tough generals?” Trump said.
According to Trump, the manner in which Kim pushed aside generals and even “wiped out” his own uncle prove that his threats of violence should not be taken lightly.
“It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one,” he said. “I mean, this guy doesn’t play games. And we can’t play games with him. Because he really does have missiles. And he really does have nukes.”
This week, reports indicated that North Korea may have developed its military goal: a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could be attached to intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Trump delivered a severe warning in response Tuesday. Speaking at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump said the totalitarian state would face “fire and fury” if it continued to threaten the U.S.
“North Korea [had] best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
This statement prompted North Korea to say that it has been weighing the possibility of firing missiles at Guam, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean.
On Wednesday morning, Trump boasted that his first order of business as president was to modernize and renovate the United States’ nuclear capabilities. He tweeted that the American nuclear arsenal is “far stronger and more powerful” under his administration than it had ever been before, but he hopes “we will never have to use” it.
This is not the first time a sitting U.S. president made stern warnings to North Korea amid concerns that it was trying to develop nuclear weapons.
During a July 1993 visit to the Korean Demilitarized Zone, commonly called the DMZ, then-President Bill Clinton implied that North Korea would be annihilated if it was to use nuclear weapons.
“It is pointless for them to try to develop nuclear weapons because if they ever use them it would be the end of their country,” Clinton said.
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