SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - U.S. President Donald Trump poked fun at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s alleged golfing prowess during a private dinner in April 2018, joking that golfing legend Jack Nicklaus is “a beginner” by comparison.
Trump also questioned U.S. involvement in the 1950s Korean War, according to a recording of the dinner first published by ABC News.
"You know that Kim Jon Ung is a great golfer,” Trump told his dinner guests, mispronouncing the name of the North Korean leader he would meet for the first time in Singapore six weeks later. “He would make Jack Nicklaus look like a beginner.”
Trump continued, apparently mocking the cult of personality that North Korean state media have cultivated for the three generations of the ruling Kim family.
"Did you ever hear that? He shot an 18,” Trump said amid roars of laughter from the guests, before adding: “It’s actually his father, you know who they said shot an 18.”
"It’s just one weird deal,” Trump added.
The comments came as Trump was shifting his approach toward the young North Korean leader.
In 2017, Trump routinely mocked Kim, calling him “Little Rocket Man” and insinuating in a tweet that he was “short and fat.” Trump also threatened North Korea with "fire and fury like the world has never seen” and warned he could "totally destroy" the country.
But in early 2018, Trump drastically changed course, announcing he would meet Kim face to face. The two men met for the first time that June, signing a vague statement about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The talks have since stalled.
At the dinner, which took place on April 30, Trump can be heard telling his guests about the plans for the upcoming Singapore summit.
"The North Korea thing is moving along very well. We have a site now. You know, we picked a site. They announce pretty soon. And a location, plus a date,” Trump said. “And he really wants to do something, I tell you. Part of the reason he wants to do two things - I mean maybe the rhetoric and maybe we put sanctions like you wouldn't believe."
One of the guests can be heard asking whether Trump would consider hosting the meeting at Songdo, a so-called “smart city” just outside Seoul. Trump said he would consider Songdo, but that plans for the Kim summit were already “very far down the line.”
The recording was released by a lawyer for Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Parnas was indicted last year on campaign finance-related charges, and released the tape amid Trump’s impeachment.
On the tape, Trump calls for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Democrats have pointed to Trump’s firing of Yovanovitch as one of the reasons he should be removed from office.
The dinner, which was attended by Trump donors, took place at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.
Trump targets South Korea
During the dinner, Trump also took aim at South Korea on trade, after one of the dinner guests complained that South Korea was exporting Chinese steel to the United States.
"We’re doing a big number for them. Can you believe it?” Trump said, apparently referencing the U.S. military presence in Korea. “I could write a book on that.”
After one of the guests mentioned that the U.S. spends “billions of dollars to save [South Korea] from North Korea,” Trump reflected on the history of the U.S.-South Korea alliance.
"How we ever got involved in South Korea in the first place, you know, tell me about it. How we ended up in a Korean war,” Trump said as his guests laughed.
The U.S. has 28,500 troops in South Korea, a remnant of the 1950s era Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The Pentagon says the troops are meant to deter North Korea.
Trump has long complained that Seoul is not paying enough for the cost of the U.S. military presence.
For a second consecutive year, negotiators failed to reach an agreement before the military cost-sharing deal expired on December 31. Officials have said the talks have made progress, but that gaps remain.
Trump has at times dismissed the need for U.S. troops in Korea. Asked last month if it was in the U.S. security interest to keep troops in South Korea and the region, Trump said he could go “either way.”