Trump aide says nukes fueled U.S.-North talks

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Trump aide says nukes fueled U.S.-North talks

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Sunday said concerns over North Korea’s nuclear weapons fueled the current U.S. administration’s engagement policy toward the country, trumping alarm over the brutality of the regime in Pyongyang.

In an answer to a question in a Fox News Sunday interview about U.S. President Donald Trump’s relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Mulvaney said that “having a good working relationship with somebody is never a bad thing,” adding, “regardless of what they might be doing domestically or internationally.”

The latter was a reference to a Chosun Ilbo report from South Korea last week that alleged that North Korea’s top nuclear envoy had been purged as a result of the failure of the second summit between Trump and Kim. While North Korea’s human rights record has never prevented Trump from touting his personal affinity for Kim, Mulvaney made it clear that the administration regards domestic affairs in the country as a secondary issue to engagement over its nuclear program.

“Keep in mind, [negotiations with the North are] going slower than we expected, but foreign policy is not about short-term political gains, it’s about global and national U.S. security,” Mulvaney said. “That’s how we’re addressing this.”

In a separate interview that day with CBS News, Mulvaney touted the Trump administration’s success in engaging the North Koreans, saying that Pyongyang was no longer “launching long-range, nuclear, nuclear-capable missiles that we think could reach the mainland of the United States.”

“So things have gotten much better because of what the administration has done,” he added.

Appointed Trump’s acting chief of staff in December 2018, Mulvaney sat alongside the president at his second summit with Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, last February. Even after those talks fell apart and Pyongyang renewed its provocative stance toward Washington, Mulvaney stressed that Trump’s relationship with Kim “still remains good,” and that the administration was confident in the possibility of future talks. This optimism, however, was not shared by former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who spoke to internet outlet Axios on Sunday on the continuing threat of “nuclear blackmail” posed by the North Korean regime.

Warning Pyongyang could threaten the use of nukes at any time unless Washington removed its troops from the Korean Peninsula. McMaster also warned of the possibility of nuclear proliferation to countries like Syria, but also among other neighboring countries, like South Korea or Japan, saying, “If North Korea gets a weapon, who doesn’t?” Before he was replaced by the hawkish John Bolton in April last year, McMaster was involved in the Trump administration’s security planning before the president veered toward engagement by meeting Kim for the first time in Singapore that June.

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