Donald Trump's quip about Kim Jong Un sparks outcry on social media

PHOTO: Reuters

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump on Friday (Jun 15) said he wished people would "sit up at attention" for him like North Koreans do for their leader Kim Jong Un, a joke that sparked instant outrage on social media and cable news.

It was the latest example of a Trump remark about strongmen leaders - delivered in a deadpan style - to fall flat and fuel perceptions among his critics that the president admires autocrats.

Trump was asked during a Fox News Channel interview outside the West Wing if he would invite Kim to the White House. The two met earlier this week to begin to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear programme, a summit marked by what Trump said was friendly chemistry between them.

Trump indicated a White House visit by Kim was possible: "Hey he's the head of a country," Trump said.

"He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same," Trump said, pointing to the West Wing.

When Trump met Kim: A Singapore story

  • Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un made history Tuesday, becoming the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet and shake hands, as they seek to end a tense decades-old nuclear stand-off.
  • It was a meeting many would have thought unimaginable just months ago.
  • The two men strode toward each other and shared the momentous handshake beneath the white-washed walls of an upscale hotel in neutral Singapore, before sitting down for a half-day of meetings with major ramifications for the world.
  • Prior to the meeting held at Capella Hotel in Singapore's resort island of Sentosa, Trump had said that he would know "within the first minute", whether any agreement would be possible.
  • The watching world is not sure if it's the start of a beautiful, budding "bromance", but here's a look at how the world's most talked-about first date unfolded.
  • Their handshake reportedly lasted for 12 long seconds (though still 7 seconds shorter than his memorable handshake with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe).
  • Trump also reached out to touch the North Korean leader on his right shoulder.
  • According to a body language expert Karen Leong, the first 60 seconds showed both leaders seeking to take charge in their encounter. US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un both sought to project a sense of command. "Their handshake seems to be between peers," she said.
  • "Trump seemed to be very aware of this, that he needed to up the stakes and be seen that he is the leader."
  • Trump did most of the talking, and Kim appeared to listen attentively, turning to him three times during their walk toward their meeting room.
  • Trump did most of the talking, and Kim appeared to listen attentively, turning to him three times during their walk toward their meeting room.
  • The US President, who is more than twice Kim's age, then appeared to lead the way to the library where they held a one-on-one meeting, placing his hand on the North Korean leader's counterpart's back.
  • Kim also patted the US president' arm, in an attempt to show control over the encounter, said Leong.
  • The leaders appeared to share a few light-hearted moments as they walked down a corridor to the hotel's library.
  • However, Leong said both found it difficult to conceal their nervousness once they were seated, with Trump displaying a slanted smile, and fidgeting with his hands and Kim leaning and staring at the ground.
  • As they sat down for their one-on-one meeting, the US leader predicted a "terrific relationship" with Kim.
  • Mr Kim then said through a translator: “The way to come to here was not easy.The old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward but we overcame all of them and we are here today.”
  • After their closed door one-on-one talks, the pair continued with explanded bilateral talks with their delegation. Trump was flanked by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton.
  • Sitting across the table from the US team were North Korean leader Kim, Kim Yong-chol, first vice department director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s central committee, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Ri Su-yong, Workers’ Party vice chairman on international affairs.
  • Thereafter, the two leaders attended a working lunch with their respective delegations at Capella Hotel.
  • On the lunch menu: Main courses include beef short rib confit, served with potato dauphinois and steamed broccoli; sweet and sour crispy pork and fried rice with an "XO" chilli sauce as well as a Korean dish called "daegu jorim", which is a soy braised cod fish with radish and Asian vegetables.
  • Post-lunch, Kim and Trump then went for a leisurely stroll around the hotel grounds.
  • He also said talks had gone "better than anybody could have expected", and indicated that they were heading for a "signing", but did not divulge any details of the agreement.
  • During their walk, Trump unexpectedly gave Kim a peek into his super limo, nicknamed "The Beast".
  • But they did not get to hop on to go for a joyride, as commentators had hoped.
  • The pair met to sign an agreement, details of which were not revealed during the signing. Trump said: "We're signing a very important document, pretty comprehensive document, and we've had a really great time together, a great relationship... More will be discussed at a press conference soon."
  • When asked what he learnt about Kim, Trump said that he is "a very talented man", and that "he loves his country very much".
  • Mr Trump also described Mr Kim as a "very worthy, very smart negotiator".
  • According to sources after the signing, the two leaders pledged to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, while Washington committed to provide security guarantees for its old enemy.
  • The signatures of US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said he expected the denuclearization process to start "very, very quickly".
  • Kim places a hand on Trump's back as they leave the room after the signing.
  • After the signing, the pair walked out for another round of photo-taking.
  • Reports say Mr Kim departed Singapore on a chartered Air China flight at 11.20pm and midnight on Tuesday, while Trump left on Air Force One earlier at 6.25pm.
  • At 4pm, Trump held a press conference on the summit outcome and details on the agreement signed.
  • "We signed a joint statement that is an unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of North Korea," he says.
  • The Capella Hotel on Singapore's resort island of Sentosa, provided the backdrop for the historic summit.
  • Trump's motorcade arriving at Sentosa on Tuesday (June 12) morning.
  • Setting the stage ready for the handshake that will be seen across the world.

Kim is suspected of ordering the assassination of his half-brother in February and the execution of his uncle in 2013. UN investigations have also reported human rights violations, the use of political prison camps and the widespread use of starvation as a tool to enforce political loyalty.

Trump was later asked by reporters what he meant by the remark. "I'm kidding. You don't understand sarcasm," Trump said.

The joke was reminiscent of one he made at a private dinner with donors in March, when he noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping no longer faced term limits.

"I said, 'President for life. That sounds good. Maybe we are going to have to try it,'" he later said, recounting the outrage that followed.

"But I'm joking," he said, complaining about the reaction. "I'm joking about being president for life."

At a rally in February, he said Democrats in Congress were treasonous because they did not clap at his State of the Union speech.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders later said he didn't mean it: "The president was clearly joking with his comments," she said.

Trump's controversial quips draw fire from the quick-to-tweet media because they feed into a caricature created by his opponents, said Chris Barron, a pro-Trump Republican strategist.

"They believe that Trump is somehow this autocratic despot and they're waiting for any words that fill in that narrative," Barron said in an interview.

"If Trump says something and it can be read two ways, immediately the benefit of the doubt is against Trump," he said.

But David Litt, a speechwriter to former President Barack Obama, said blaming the listener for not getting the joke is a way to avoid responsibility for going too far.

There are some topics that presidents should just not joke about publicly lest they make allies nervous or embolden adversaries, Litt told Reuters.

"Maybe Donald Trump is the kind of dry, deadpan humorist who does great material about how terrific dictators are - but if that's the case, he should wait until he retires as president to start breaking out that particular part of his act," Litt said.

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