- During a light-hearted dinner over the weekend, President Donald Trump appeared to joke that he had a phone call with North Korea.
- Trump said he told the North Koreans “you have to denuke.”
- A South Korean news agency asked a US National Security Council official for clarification and was told Trump was referring to a phone call he had with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
- Journalists and foreign policy experts began accusing Trump of conflating the two countries on the peninsula.
Comments made by President Donald Trump at a joke-filled dinner event in Washington with some 600 attendees over the weekend of made the rounds on Twitter after Trump riffed on US-North Korean relations.
During a speech, Trump appeared to joke that North Korea called him to ask if the US would be interested in talks – a potentially watershed proposal that a senior US administration official later said did not happen.
Trump went on in his remarks to guests at the Gridiron Dinner on Saturday night, apparently pretending to recall a conversation with North Korea: “Now we’re talking. They, by the way, called up a couple of days ago; they said, ‘We would like to talk,'” Trump said, according to The Washington Post. “And I said, ‘So would we, but you have to denuke.'”
“As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that’s his problem, not mine,” Trump continued, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump made other jokes – including ones at his administration’s expense – during the lighthearted event which included some journalists.
“I want to apologise for running a little late, as Jared could not get through security,” Trump said, referring to his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s recent fiasco involving his downgraded security clearance.
But a report from South Korea’s Yonhap News went viral and sparked confusion because it quoted a US National Security Council official who said Trump’s remarks were not made in jest. Instead, the official said, Trump was referring to a March 1 phone call the president had with South Korean president Moon Jae-in.
“President Trump did not have a call with the North Koreans,” the official reportedly said.
According to the NSC official cited in the report, Trump and Moon discussed the US’s “firm position that any dialogue with North Korea must be conducted with the explicit and unwavering goal of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on the NSC official’s remarks.
Though Yonhap made no reference to the possibility that Trump was joking in its now-viral report, it did note in an older article – published an hour prior – that the Gridiron Dinner “is typically a humorous event and not used to unveil new policy initiatives.”
But after Yonhap published its latest report in which the NSC official said Trump had talked to the South Korean president and not the North Korean leader, foreign-policy experts and some journalists latched onto the notion that Trump may have erroneously mixed up Moon and Kim during his speech.
“Awkward,” a New York Times bureau chief tweeted. “When Trump said North Korean regime called a ‘couple of days ago,’ he was actually remembering his call with President Moon Jae-in. Of South Korea.”
“That’s….very much not the same thing.,” a BuzzFeed News reporter said on Twitter.
“It makes you wonder: did Trump think he was talking to a North Korean at the time,” another foreign policy expert tweeted. “Or did he only decide that afterward? Which is worse?”
“Oh, this is so scary,” another commenter tweeted. “He doesn’t know which Korea he’s dealing with. Help!!!”
Though Trump could have referred to a phone call with Moon during his speech, as said by an NSC official in Yonhap’s reporting, it appears unlikely: Trump previously used “denuke” and “North Korea” in conjunction in previous statements.