U.S. President Donald Trump has fallen in love — with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
That’s according to the president, who praised Kim for what Trump said were steps toward denuclearization during a televised wide-ranging speech at a rally Saturday in Virginia.
“I was really being tough and so was he. And we would go back and forth. And then we fell in love. No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters. They were great letters. And then we fell in love,” Trump said of his talks with Kim over his nuclear weapons program.
The U.S. leader was speaking about a series of letters he has exchanged with Kim since their landmark summit in Singapore in June. At that meeting, Kim agreed to a vaguely worded 1½-page joint statement to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” while Trump committed to “provide security guarantees” and take moves toward the normalization of relations.
Although denuclearization talks between the two countries have stalled, the two leaders’ relationship has shifted from venomous personal attacks last year to expressions of endearment this year.
During his speech at the United Nations last week, Trump raised hopes that a second meeting with Kim could occur “quite soon,” striking a conciliatory tone just a year after he used his debut at the U.N. to deride the dictator as “Little Rocket Man” and threaten to “totally destroy” his country. Trump praised Kim in his most recent U.N. speech, calling him “very open” and “terrific,” despite the glacial pace of progress in convincing the North to relinquish its nuclear arsenal.
On Saturday, Trump defended his praise for Kim, who oversees a system of brutal gulags thought to hold tens of thousands of political prisoners and is suspected of ordering the assassination of his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, last year as well as the execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, in 2013.
It was also a noticeable shift from Trump’s strong words for the North Korean regime after U.S. student Otto Warmbier was released from their custody in a coma. Warmbier later died days after his return to the United States.
“I like him, he likes me. I guess that’s OK,” Trump said. “Am I allowed to say that?”
He then went on to blast the media for critical reporting of his Singapore summit and moves in its wake, saying that the media reaction to his remarks about Kim would likely be reported as “unpresidential.”
Trump has maintained that the June meeting was necessary to pull the two countries away from the precipice of war.
“I didn’t give up anything. I gave up nothing,” he said. “The only thing I gave up was I agreed to meet.”
Social media erupted at Trump’s effusive words for Kim.
“He’s talking about a man who murders entire families of people who dare step out of line,” Patrick Chovanec, a former professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in Beijing who has visited North Korea wrote Saturday on Twitter. “This is coming from the man who showcased Otto Warmbier’s parents at his last State of the Union address.”
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said that while talks are good, Trump had gone too far in his latest remarks.
“Hey @realDonaldTrump — WTF? It IS horrible to say that. A @POTUS can and should talk with an adversary, even a brutal dictators, in order to work our deals to advance U.S. and international security. But don’t ‘fall in love.’ ” he tweeted.