Responding to concerns that his first face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong Un glossed over the North Korean leader’s human rights record, President Donald Trump on Wednesday night downplayed allegations of the regime’s brutality.
In an interview with Fox News’ Brett Baier on Air Force One as he was leaving Singapore, Trump brushed aside Kim Jong Un’s oppression of his people, according to transcriptions by The Hill. “Yeah, but so have a lot of other people have done some really bad things,” Trump said, adding, “I mean, I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.”
Trump then went on to praise on Kim, calling him a “tough guy” who took control of his country from a young age. “I don’t care who you are, what you are, what kind of advantage you have,” Trump said. “If you can do that at 27-years-old, you, I mean, that’s one-in-10,000 that can do that.”
Throughout the interview, Trump called Kim — who he has previously referred to as “little rocket man” — a “very smart guy” and a “great negotiator.”
Following the historic summit between the two leaders in Singapore, Trump said Kim was a “talented man” who “loves his country.”
His warm embrace and flattery of Kim this week has particularly rankled critics, and it comes amid a feud with more traditional American allies.
Last year, Human Rights Watch called the pariah state “one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world.” Between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are believed to be languishing in North Korea’s prisons, according to a 2014 U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea. The report accused the totalitarian state of committing crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, enforced disappearance and knowingly causing prolonged starvation.
During this week’s summit in Singapore, Trump said he “briefly” raised the issue of human rights with Kim.
After he arrived back in Washington on Wednesday, Trump tweeted that the regime no longer poses a nuclear threat, despite the fact that North Korea is believed to possess an arsenal of a dozen or more nuclear warheads, as well as hundreds of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles capable of striking U.S. military bases.
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Write to Laignee Barron at Laignee.Barron@time.com