President Donald Trump speaks to the media after participating in a video teleconference with members of the U.S. military at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, December 24, 2019.
Leah Millis | Reuters
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that North Korea’s cryptic “Christmas gift” to the U.S. may be a “beautiful vase” — rather than a missile test, as some experts fear.
Trump, speaking to reporters after finishing a Christmas Eve video call with U.S. troops from his Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago, joked about the nuclear-armed dictatorship’s rhetoric even with the threat of a long-range missile test looming over the apparent tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said when asked what he would do if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un does decide to test a new long-range projectile.
“Maybe it’s a nice present. Maybe it’s a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test,” he said. “I may get a vase. I may get a nice present from him. You don’t know. You never know.”
Ri Thae Song, North Korea’s vice minister of foreign affairs in charge of U.S. affairs, said Dec. 3 that the U.S. “year-end limit” was drawing near, and “it is entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select to get,” according to the Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA.
It was not clear what the “limit” was referring to. But Kim had said in an April speech that he would wait until the end of this year for the Trump administration to change its approach to denuclearization talks with Pyongyang.
“I think the North Koreans are going to test an intercontinental ballistic missile,” said Harry Kazianis, senior director at D.C.-based think tank the Center for National Interest.
“I hope I’m wrong,” he said.
Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at MIT, told CNBC last week that Kim has been sending Trump a message by testing a high number of short-range missiles throughout the summer and fall.
The message of the “gift” rhetoric was “loud and clear,” Narang said. “This was Kim Jong Un’s maximum pressure campaign on President Trump. Like, if you’re not hearing me about changing your calculations and giving sanctions relief and security guarantee and getting rid of the hostile policy, I can show you what long-range missiles look like.”
Trump in June became the first sitting U.S. president to stand on North Korean soil, where he met with Kim for a photo op and a meeting. Trump said then that nuclear talks would restart within “weeks.”
Trump had previously boasted in a triumphant tweet that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
“Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” he wrote.
But there have been few signs since that historic meeting that North Korea is any closer to dismantling its nuclear arsenal.
Last month, North Korea fired two short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast.