KIM Jong-un and Donald Trump “probably have a great relationship” according to the US President in a startling admission.
Mr Trump may have called Kim “short and fat”, nicknamed him “Little Rocket Man” and threatened him with “fire and fury” – but he has coyly hinted that he and Kim Jong-Un could be pals after all.
The US President has aimed a series of scornful tweets at North Korea’s much-ridiculed leader since taking office at the start of 2017, while Kim has hit back with insults of his own, at one point branding the 71-year-old a “dotard”.
The war of words led some to conclude that the at-times-heated rhetoric was in danger of spiralling out of control – but during a cryptic interview with the Wall Street Journal conducted in the Oval Office, Mr Trump at least seems unconcerned.
He said: “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un.
“I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised.”
Pressed on the subject of whether he and his counterpart had actually had a conversation, Mr Trump said: “I don’t want to comment on it. I’m not saying I have or haven’t. I just don’t want to comment.”
The US and North Korea have been estranged diplomatically for almost a decade, and in November Mr Trump’s administration categorised the country as a state sponsor of terror.
And when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there had been back channel communications with North Korea, Mr Trump publicly admonished him by saying any efforts to negotiate with “wasting his time” in trying to negotiate with Kim.
Nevertheless, there appears to have been a slight thaw in relations between North Korea and neighbouring South Korea in recent days, with the confirmation that the North will be sending a team to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
Mr Trump said he had discussed the situation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had told him he was “very thankful for what we’ve done”.
Experts have warned that Mr Trump’s combative approach to diplomacy is fraught with risk.
Speaking to Newsweek in December, Robert Einhorn, an expert in nuclear non-proliferation at Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution, said: “Trump’s bombast was not just an embarrassment and a blow to the U.S. reputation for skilful diplomacy.
“More disturbing, it reinforced Kim’s determination to keep his nuclear weapons and may have increased the risk that the North could misinterpret U.S. military exercises as the prelude to a regime-threatening attack and decide that it has nothing to lose by striking first.
“Kim and Trump battled rhetorically to a tie in 2017, but the United States was the real loser because Trump’s belligerent and reckless tweets brought the American presidency down to the level of North Korea’s leadership.”