Among a host of topics, Trump said he trusts Kim to follow through on his pledge to denuclearize, discusses how long it will take, the "terrible" Iran nuclear deal and explains the now-viral photo of him facing down Angela Merkel at the G-7 summit in Quebec.
Read the full interview:
George Stephanopoulos: Mr. President, thanks for doing this.
President Trump: Thank you very much.
G: So we saw you sign the agreement right in this room. You also said you developed a special bond with Kim. Describe that bond.
T: Well, it’s been a very intense day, and as you know, we discussed things over the last few months.
G: You did? You’ve spoken with him before?
T: Yeah, I have spoken, yes, I have spoken to him, I have spoken to a lot of his people, his, as you know, his, I would say very top person was at the White House last week. And so we’ve developed a pretty good relationship in terms of getting something done. It got done. I think it’s a terrific document. It’s a starter, but it’s a terrific document. I think far more -- and there are things that we negotiated after that document that are also very important.
G: Like what?
T: They’re going to get rid of certain ballistic missile sites and various other things. We’re gonna put that out later. But we have the framework of getting ready to denuclearize North Korea.
G: Yeah, and the phrase in the document is “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Does that mean that the nuclear umbrella that we have over South Korea is on the table for negotiation?
T: No. That means that they’re going to get rid of their nuclear weapons. We never even discussed the other. They're going to get rid of their nuclear weapons, George, and I think they want to do it relatively quickly. Now, we're going to see. I mean, they’re going to start working on it immediately. We’re going to work with South Korea. We’re going to work with Japan. We’re going to work with China. But it really has been an incredible exercise.
G: You’ve set the bar for nuclear agreements by criticizing the Iran nuclear deal, said it’s the worst deal ever made.
T: Terrible deal.
G: Does that mean that any deal with North Korea has to be tougher than the Iran deal?
T: I don’t think a deal could be softer. First of all, we’re not paying $150 billion, OK, we’re paying nothing from that standpoint other than, you will see what happens. I think there’s going to be a great partnership with Japan and South Korea. President Moon [Jae-in] has been terrific.
G: But they have to get--
T: [interrupting] President Abe has been terrific.
G: But they have to get rid of all their nuclear weapons?
T: They have to get rid of, yeah, I think that they will. I really believe that he will. I’ve gotten to know him well in a short period of time.
G: Did he tell you that?
T: Yeah, he’s de-nuking, I mean he’s de-nuking the whole place. It’s going to start very quickly. I think he’s going to start now. They’ll be announcing things over the next few days talking about other missile sites because they were, as you know, they were sending out a lot of missiles. It was a period of time where I was saying, what are they doing? Every week it seems another missile going up. I mean, they're going to be getting rid of sites.
G: Is he going to stop testing?
T: How many months has it been, George? Seven? Where there’s been no missiles going out?
G: He’s committed to not starting that up again?
T: He’s committed to not starting again. That won’t be happening. He means it he really wants to do something I think terrific for their country and it’s the only way it can be it’s the only way it can be terrific.
G: How long is it going to take?
T: You know, if you look at, if you talk to the experts, you can’t just do it immediately.
G: Some say 15 years.
T: It takes a period of time. Some say 15 years, if you go rapidly. But when you’re in the process of doing it, you’re really dismantling, in other words, you can't do anything during that period of time. But they have a process for getting rid of nukes that does take, it’s not like, oh gee, we’ll get rid of them tomorrow. It just can’t be done scientifically. But they’re gonna do it. They’re gonna start immediately. They really already started. They blew up a site, which was the real deal site that was their big site, they’ve blown it up. They’re getting rid of things that haven't been mentioned in the document, they’re getting rid of certain missile areas and they’re not going to be sending missiles up. They’re not doing research--
G: And they’re going to announce that and confirm it as well? These additional steps--
T: Say it?
G: The north koreans are going to announce these additional steps as well?
T: Yeah they’re going to be announcing them shortly, they might have announced them already but after we signed we agreed to that also, and I’m doing something that I’ve wanted to do from the beginning. We stopped playing those war games that cost us a fortune. You know, we’re spending a fortune, every couple of months we’re doing war games with South Korea, and I said, ‘What’s this costing?’ We’re flying planes in from guam, we’re bombing empty mountains for practice. I said ‘I want to stop that and I will stop that, and I think it’s very provocative --
G: Could you talk--
T: Especially, George, since, we’re getting along. In other words, we’re in--
G: Did you talk about pulling troops out?
T: --process of signing something. Excuse me?
G: Did you talk about pulling troops out? U.S. troops out of South Korea.
T: We didn’t discuss that, no. But we’re not gonna play the war games. You know, I wanted to stop the war games, I thought they were very provocative. But I also think they’re very expensive. We’re running the country properly, I think they’re very, very expensive. To do it, we have to fly planes in from Guam -- that’s six and a half hours away. Big bombers and everything else, I said, ‘Who’s paying for this?’ I mean, who pays, in order to practice.
G: What are the kinds of security--
T: So one of the things that I suggested and I wanna do is we’re going to stop the war games, unless for some reason, we’re unable to go further.
G: What other kinds of security guarantees did you offer, did you put on the table?
T: Well, we’ve given him, I don’t wanna talk about it specifically, but we’ve given him, he’s going to be happy. His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor. They're gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people -- that they’re so hard working, so industrious. I think if you look at South Korea, someday, maybe in the not too distant future, it will be something that.
G: You say his people love him. Just a few months ago you accused him of starving his people. And listen, here’s the rub. Kim is a brutal dictator. He runs a police state, forced starvation, labor camps. He’s assassinated members of his own family. How do you trust a killer like that?
T: George, I’m given what I'm given, okay? I mean, this is what we have, and this is where we are, and I can only tell you from my experience, and I met him, I've spoken with him, and I’ve met him. And this was, as you know, started very early and it's been very intense. I think that he really wants to do a great job for North Korea. I think he wants to denuke, it’s very important. Without that, there's nothing to discuss. That was on the table at the beginning, and you see a total denuclearization of North Korea -- so important. And, he wants to do the right thing. Now, with all of that being said, I can’t talk about -- it doesn’t matter. We’re starting from scratch. We’re starting right now, and we have to get rid of those nuclear weapons.
G: How do you trust him, though? Is he willing to change? Do you believe he’s changed?
T: Well, you know, over my lifetime I've done a lot of deals with a lot of people, and sometimes the people that you most distrust turn out to be the most honorable ones, and the people that you do trust they are not the honorable ones, so we are starting from a very high plane, we’re starting from a very good relationship. This has been a very big day in terms of the world. I think it’s been, maybe I -- a lot of people have been saying it’s historic.
G: We’re all calling it historic.
T: Yeah, even my enemies are calling it historic. And you know, the fact is that we’ve done something that’s very unique. Nobody’s met with the family, nobody at a high level--
G: -- no president has.
T: No president has, certainly. And we’ve done something that we’re very proud of. It’s a very strong document.
G: His father made agreements with the United States and then said he was going to freeze the nuclear weapons then backslid. Didn’t keep the commitments.
T: Right, and he talks about that. He said that, you know, there are reasons he didn't because he was let down by the United States, but that’s irrelevant. What he’s doing, and and he very much said that, he said you know over the years -- first of all, they’ve never gone this far, you know, they’ve never been at a level like this, and his father never dealt with a president, and a lot of other things. But he said, it’s very much on his mind. He said, ‘We are going to get this done.’ In the past we’ve tried, but it never worked out and it never did work out. And it was embarrassing actually to the United states and to our leadership. This is different, I believe you’ll find in the years to come, George. I think you’re going to find this different.
G: How are you going to know he’s keeping his word, he’s committed to this?
T: Well, we’re going to be following things. We’re going to be monitoring things. We’re dealing with him very, on a constant basis. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did a very very good job, great energy. And they have a great relationship, his counterpart. They have a really good relationship. They’re moving along, they’re getting it done. I mean, I've been up 24 hours now straight between phone calls and working it. This is a very, look this is 72 years we’re talking about, and we put it into one very intensive day and some meetings beforehand.
G: And, but a lot of people look at Kim Jong Un and say there is no way he is ever giving up those nuclear weapons, that’s why he survives, that’s why he was in this room today.
T: Well, I think we have to disagree. Otherwise I wouldn't be here or I would have respectfully, you know, I would have shaken his hand. I would have said, listen, I'll see you sometime. But I wouldn't have had any interest. No, this was very important, it’s in the first paragraph and it says complete total denuclearization. Without that I wouldn't have been interested. I believe that he wants to get it done.
G: You trust him?
T: I do trust him, yeah. Now, will I come back to you in a year and you’ll be interviewing and I’ll say, gee I made a mistake? That’s always possible. You know, we’re dealing at a very high level, a lot of things can change, a lot of things are possible. He trusts me, I believe, I really do. I mean, he said openly, and he said it to a couple of reporters that were with him that he knows that no other president ever could have done this, I mean no other pre--he knows the presidents, he knows who we had in front of me. He said no other president could have done this. I think he trusts me, and I trust him.
G: Ronald Reagan said trust but verify.
G: How do you verify this commitment?
T: Well, we’re going to be verifying, and we’re going to be working with them. And it’s going to be much more open than it is right now. Right now it’s obviously very closed, it’s a very closed society we know very little about. You know, if you ask intelligence, they will tell you probably they know less about this area of the world than they do any place, anywhere in the world. We’re going to be working very closely with him. We’ve developed great relationships at different levels. Mike Pompeo has got really, very good, strong relationships and others have also. Today, we introduced him to John Bolton which was a very interesting thing, and--
G: He says, how do you know Kim Jong Un is lying, his lips are moving?
T: By the end of that conversation, it was good. I think they have a good trust.
G: This has been a dizzying few days of diplomacy--
G: --for you.
T: That’s true.
G: You know, you’re reaching out here to Kim Jong Un -- longtime enemy of the United States. Coming off of that summit in Canada with those tough words for the Canadian prime minister. How do you explain that to people who might be confused, that we’re reaching out to our enemies, antagonizing allies.
T: Well, no, I have great friendships. If you speak to Prime Minister Abe, who I’m helping a lot, because, you know, Japan, three or four times they had missiles going right over the middle of japan. I have a very good relationship with Prime Minister Abe. I have great relationship with the new man who I like a lot as you know from Italy. He just won and you know, we had very good. And frankly really good with Merkel. Really good pretty much with all of them. I was very surprised because we actually were getting ready to sign a document, I made them make various changes. And you know the so called semi-famous picture of--
G: I’ve seen the picture.
T: Right. She was looking at me, you know what we were doing? We were talking while we were waiting for the final copy of the document. That was, that was such an innocent picture. You know, we put out that picture. That was put out by my people. That was really a picture of me sitting this way. And I'm waiting for the document so we can final read it. What happened is we had a final document. I wasn't a hundred percent, but I wanted to leave nicely, so we had a document. I get into Air Force One, the television’s on, and I see a news conference being given by the prime minister of Canada. And Justin. And I said, ‘Oh that’s nice, Justin’s giving a’ -- And then he talked about how they won't be bullied. And I said ‘What’s this all about? He didn’t do that to my face, what’s this all about?’ But here’s what the story is: We have been taken advantage of as a country for decades by friends and enemies both. We have been, our trade is a disaster, our trade deals. We lose eight hundred and seventeen billion dollars was the last count on a yearly basis. Think of it, George. In other words, when you add China and all of the other places, Germany, the European Union is a disaster for us. We lost a hundred and fifty one billion dollars last year. Billion, not not million. We lost a hundred and fifty one billion. They don't take our product. They won't take our agriculture. They won't. We lost a hundred and fifty one. Now they were at the meeting. The European Union. I can't be thrilled. I let ‘em know. And I said, fellas we gotta change it. And if you don’t change it, we’re not going to do trading.
T: [interrupting] I just do want to say, though, that picture was supposed to be a friendly picture. That was put out by us. And we were waiting for the document to come back so we could read it. I left, everybody was happy, everybody shook. You should ask Prime Minister Abe. Everybody was happy. And then he gave out a little bit of an obnoxious thing. I actually like Justin, you know, I think he’s good, I like him, but he shouldn't have done that. That was a mistake. That’s going to cost him a lot of money.
G: Final question. When is Kim coming to the White House?
T: Well, I want to get it along. I want the process to start. I want to see some real work going on, which I believe I will, and I would love to have him at the White House -- whatever it takes, and I would love to have him at the White House, and I think he’d love to be there. And at a certain point when it’s all complete I’d love to be there.
G: Mr. President, thanks for having us here.
T: Thank you very much, George. Thank you.
G: Thank you.