Donald Trump told Tim Russert in an interview nearly 20 years ago that “the biggest problem this world has is nuclear proliferation” and that it would be “good to sit down and negotiate” with North Korea before the situation spirals out of control.
“You say that you, as president, would be willing to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea’s nuclear capability,” Russert said.
“First I’d negotiate,” Trump replied. “I’d negotiate like crazy. I’d make sure that we tried to get the best deal possible.”
“Look, Tim — if a man walks up to you and puts a gun to your head and says, ‘give me your money,’ wouldn’t you rather know where he’s coming from before he had the gun in his hand?” he said.
Trump’s interview with Russert resurfaced on Tuesday as tensions with North Korea escalated dramatically.
The US intelligence community assessed last month that Pyongyang has developed technology that would allow it to miniaturize nuclear weapons, according to a Washington Post report published Tuesday morning. Asked about the report, Trump said that further threats from North Korea would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen before.”
Trump told Russert in 1999 that “in three or four years” North Korea was going to have nuclear weapons “pointed all over the world, specifically at the United States.”
Ideally, he said, the US would try diplomacy first. But “if that negotiation doesn’t work, better solve the problem now than solve it later.”
Russert argued that the nuclear fallout from a preemptive strike could be “devastating to the Korean peninsula.”
When Trump replied that he wasn’t advocating for the US to strike preemptively with a nuclear weapon, only that the US try to take out North Korea’s missile systems, Russert said even eliminating that nuclear potential could create a fallout. South Korea’s capital, Seoul, is only 35 miles from the North Korean border.
Even if the US didn’t target North Korea’s nuclear capability directly, Pyongyang could easily attack South Korea — a US ally — with conventional weapons in retaliation for any American strikes.
Still, Trump said, North Korea is “laughing at us. They think we’re a bunch of dummies.”
“You want to do it in five years when they have warheads all over the place, every one of them pointing to New York City and Washington?” Trump said. “Or do you want to do something now?”
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