WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Russia of helping North Korea evade international sanctions, and said Pyongyang is making daily progress in its quest to develop ballistic missiles that can reach the United States.
In an Oval Office interview with Reuters Wednesday, Trump praised China for its efforts to restrict oil and coal supplies to North Korea but said Beijing could do much more to help constrain Pyongyang. But he said Russia appears to be filling in the gaps left by the Chinese.
On Russia, North Korea
“Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea,” Trump told Reuters. “What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.”He suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin might deliberately be subverting the sanctions.
“He can do a lot,” Trump said of Putin. “But unfortunately we don’t have much of a relationship with Russia, and in some cases it’s probable that what China takes back, Russia gives. So the net result is not as good as it could be.”
During the nearly hour long interview, Trump was less optimistic than he has appeared recently on the value of direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
When asked by reporters whether he has communicated directly with Kim, Trump was evasive. But he said he might be willing to have a face-to face meeting with the North Korean leader.
“I’d sit down, but I’m not sure that sitting down will solve the problem,” Trump told Reuters. He noted, however, that past efforts by previous administrations had been unsuccessful in limiting Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
“I’m not sure that talks will lead to anything meaningful,” he said. “They’ve talked for 25 years and they’ve taken advantage of our presidents, of our previous presidents.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Wednesday said South Korean President Moon Jae-in believes recent signals from Pyongyang about possible talks are evidence that sanctions are working. Tillerson, speaking at California’s Stanford University, said there is mounting evidence that the sanctions are “really starting to hurt” North Korea.
The secretary of state credited Beijing with helping to put pressure on Pyongyang, and expressed confidence that the sanctions would eventually bring the North Korean regime to the negotiating table.
Trump told Reuters he welcomed inter-Korean cooperation on the upcoming Winter Olympic Games to be held in the South next month, saying it could be an initial phase in helping diffuse tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders Wednesday said the White House sees Olympic cooperation as “an opportunity for the (Pyongyang) regime to see the value of ending its international isolation by denuclearization.”
“And we hope this gives North Korea and its athletes a small taste of freedom and that rubs off and is something that spreads and impacts in these negotiations,” Sanders told reporters.
It was announced earlier that North and South Korea would form a joint women’s ice hockey team to compete in the winter games and would march under a united flag during the opening ceremony.
The rival nations have formed joint sports teams only twice before — both times in 1991 — when they participated together in a youth soccer tournament and a table-tennis championship.
Previous negotiating sessions designed to send a joint team to the Olympics were not successful.
In his Reuters interview Wednesday, President Trump declined to say whether the United States had been considering a limited, pre-emptive attack to show the North the United States’ resolve.
“We’re playing a very, very hard game of poker and you don’t want to reveal your hand,” he was quoted as saying.