Trump on Kim Jong-un: Once a ‘Madman,’ Now a ‘Very Honorable’ Leader

WASHINGTON — Less than a 12 months in the past, President Trump was savaging Kim Jong-un, the North Korean chief, as a “madman” and assassin of his personal folks, branding him as “Little Rocket Man” for his nuclear testing exploits and poking enjoyable at his portly stature.

Early Thursday morning, a jubilant Mr. Trump described how Mr. Kim had been “excellent” to a few American prisoners he had agreed to launch from a jail in North Korea, and “nice” to free them so early — a “wonderful thing” that confirmed Mr. Kim’s need to finish his nation’s isolation. The feedback got here two weeks after Mr. Trump praised Mr. Kim as “very honorable” in discussions a few coming summit assembly.

The head-snapping rhetorical flip has accompanied a significant shift within the dynamic between the United States and North Korea as Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim put together for the unpredecented assembly subsequent month in Singapore. It additionally underscores the president’s black-and-white worldview — a stark formulation in which there’s good or evil, good friend or enemy, and never a lot in between — that has opened him to criticism that he has been too fast to embrace a brutal chief as a worthy negotiating associate.

“We’re starting off on a new footing,” Mr. Trump stated at Joint Base Andrews, in Maryland, the place he had organized for a showy middle-of-the-night arrival for the prisoners to be broadcast dwell on tv. He added, “There’s never been a relationship like this.”

Critics pounced on the remarks as proof that the president was within the strategy of being duped and outplayed by Mr. Kim.

“We can’t be fooled into giving the North Korean regime credit for returning Americans that never should have been detained in the first place,” stated Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic chief. “It is so troubling to hear President Trump say that Kim Jong-un treated the Americans excellently.”

Over-the-top messaging, each optimistic and destructive, is nothing new for Mr. Trump, whose 1987 guide “The Art of the Deal” argued that “bravado” was essential to salesmanship.

“People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular,” the guide says. “I call it truthful hyperbole.”

As president, Mr. Trump has married that type with a distinctly private strategy to international coverage, through which he seems to have utmost confidence in his skill to win over his counterparts all over the world with flattery, exhibits of respect and performs to ego — all issues that he relishes himself.

White House officers stated this week that Mr. Trump had made it clear that he was unwilling to supply any concessions or negotiate for the discharge of the prisoners, and expressed confidence that Mr. Kim would respect that place and do the precise factor anyway.

“It’s not unusual in diplomacy for people to be yelling at each other in one moment and singing kumbaya in the next, but what makes this so dramatic is that the president went further in both directions than others have,” stated Peter D. Feaver, a political scientist at Duke University who was a nationwide safety official below George W. Bush. “I think that’s a reflection of his belief that we have to break the standard playbook here — we’ve tried everything else with North Korea and it hasn’t worked, so why not try something different?”

Few dispute that Mr. Trump has shattered the norms of diplomatic communication relating to his language about Mr. Kim — each optimistic and destructive — and raised the stakes for the nuclear negotiations alongside the way in which.

“He has gone from extremely negative comments on Kim designed to frighten him into coming to the negotiating table to, now, extremely flattering comments designed to make him conclude a deal,” stated Sue Mi Terry, a former C.I.A. analyst who’s a senior fellow for Korea on the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s just so over the top. No president has ever spoken in either way.”

The love-hate dynamic began throughout Mr. Trump’s candidacy in 2015, when he described Mr. Kim as “this maniac sitting there” with nuclear weapons who needed to be handled. Once Mr. Trump turned president, the insults continued. In 2016, Mr. Trump referred to as the North Korean chief a “bad dude.” He turned extra heated in his denunciations over the summer season after Mr. Kim tested a long-range missile that appeared able to hitting the United States.

“Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” the president wrote on Twitter. Weeks later, he vowed to rain down “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea continued to threaten the United States.

Mr. Trump introduced his streetfighter-style phrases to the United Nations the subsequent month with another threat to Mr. Kim. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” he stated, a line that he embellished throughout a marketing campaign rally in Alabama not lengthy after, branding the North Korean chief “Little Rocket Man.”

His advisers privately cringed on the speak, involved that the president’s warnings and insults may escalate tensions with Mr. Kim, who is thought to be thin-skinned, to the purpose of precipitating a nuclear disaster.

Now, the priority is within the different course, that Mr. Trump is elevating expectations for his skill to realize a breakthrough with Mr. Kim that will not materialize, primarily based purely on a private rapport that he’s overstating.

“The problem is that this gives a sense that he’s so willing to conclude a grand bargain with Kim that he’ll do anything,” Ms. Terry stated of Mr. Trump. “I don’t think he can help it.”

Michael D’Antonio, a Trump biographer, stated that from a younger age, Mr. Trump had develop into accustomed to utilizing grandiose phrases to threaten or flatter, often to promote one thing, oftentimes himself.

“I actually think that these guys speak the same language,” Mr. D’Antonio stated of Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, including that the summit assembly would deliver collectively two leaders who’re supremely centered on their very own pictures, illiberal of slights and hooked on flattery.

“So we’re going to have a narcissist duet in Singapore, with these two guys, maybe the only two guys on Earth who know this song so well,” Mr. D’Antonio stated. “And they’re going to sing it to each other.”

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