WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday he is “very angry” at North Korea’s ballistic missile test earlier this month, and that boosting a missile defense system for Japan and South Korea is among the options to counter provocative acts by Pyongyang.
In an interview with Reuters, Trump said he wants to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal to ensure it is at the “top of the pack,” reversing his predecessor Barack Obama’s goal of achieving a world without nuclear weapons.
Trump said China could solve North Korea’s nuclear issue “very easily if they want to,” urging Beijing to exert more influence on Pyongyang to get it to rein in its missile and nuclear weapons programs, which violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“There’s talks of a lot more than that,” Trump said, when asked about the missile defense system.
“We’ll see what happens. But it’s a very dangerous situation, and China can end it very quickly in my opinion,” he said.
China said over the weekend that it will suspend coal imports from Pyongyang until the end of the year as part of tightened sanctions against the country in accordance with a UNSC resolution.
But China, the main economic and diplomatic benefactor of North Korea, has been reluctant to put too much pressure on the country, fearing it could destabilize Kim’s regime.
Scholars say China has a strategic interest in ensuring the stability of North Korea because it serves as a buffer zone between it and South Korea, a U.S. ally.
North Korea test-fired what it said was a new type of mid- to long-range ballistic missile on Feb. 12, Pyongyang’s first provocative act since Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20.
Analysts regarded the launch as a test of Trump’s North Korea policy.
Trump did not completely rule out the possibility of meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the future under certain circumstances, but suggested it might be too late.
“It’s very late. We’re very angry at what he’s done, and frankly this should have been taken care of during the Obama administration,” Trump said.
The missile launch interrupted Trump’s meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this month in Florida.
The Japanese government reportedly plans to start a debate on deploying a U.S. missile defense system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), as well as the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system, to improve its capability to counter North Korean ballistic missiles.
Alluding to Obama’s call to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and eventually rid the world of them, as he pledged in his landmark speech in 2009 in Prague, Trump said the United States has “fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity.”
“It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” he said. “We’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country.”
Trump complained that the Russian deployment of a ground-based cruise missile is in violation of a 1987 treaty that bans land-based American and Russian intermediate-range missiles.
Trump said he would raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin “if and when we meet.” But Trump said he has no meetings scheduled as of yet with Putin.
Russia has 7,000 warheads and the United States has 6,800, according to the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-nuclear group.
“Russia and the United States have far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by another nuclear-armed country,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the independent Arms Control Association non-profit group.
The new strategic arms limitation treaty, known as New START, between the United States and Russia requires that by Feb. 5, 2018, both countries limit their arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons to equal levels for 10 years.
The treaty permits both countries to have no more than 800 deployed and nondeployed land-based intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear weapons, and contains equal limits on other nuclear weapons.
Analysts have questioned whether Trump wants to abrogate New START or would begin deploying other warheads.
In the interview, Trump called New START “a one-sided deal.”
“Just another bad deal that the country made, whether it’s START, whether it’s the Iran deal … We’re going to start making good deals,” he said.
Trump also expressed support for the European Union as a governing body, saying “I’m totally in favor of it,” and for the first time as president expressed a preference for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but said he would be satisfied with whatever makes the two sides happy.
The strength of Trump’s remarks in favor of the EU took some Brussels officials by surprise after his support for Britain’s vote last summer to exit from the EU.
“I’m totally in favor of it,” Trump said of the EU. “I think it’s wonderful. If they’re happy, I’m in favor of it.”
Statements by him and others in his administration have suggested to Europeans that he sees little value in the Union as such, which Trump last month called a “vehicle for Germany.”