(ABC)– President Donald Trump says there is “absolutely” a chance that the United States and North Korea could end up in a “major, major conflict.”
His comments follow multiple North Korean missile tests, which have escalated tensions between the rogue Asian nation and its neighbors, as well as the U.S.
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump said in a Reuters interview released Thursday night.
But despite these ominous words, the president said, “we’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult.”
The U.S. has close allies nearby in South Korea and Japan, and any military action in the region threatens to snowball into a massive conflict. Trump has been pressuring China to act in the North Korean crisis, hopeful that the country will stop North Korea from escalating the tensions further.
Trump said of Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he met with in Florida earlier this month, “I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well.”
The president continued, “With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t.”
U.S. foreign policy has centered on the question of whether or not North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is a rational actor, but Trump told Reuters he had “no opinion” on it.
“He’s 27 years old,” Trump said. “His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age. I’m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational.”
In the interview, Trump also suggested that he wanted payment from South Korea for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system that the U.S. has been installing in the country to protect it from any missile attack from the North.
“I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid. It’s a billion-dollar system,” Trump said. “It’s phenomenal, shoots missiles right out of the sky.”
Trump also castigated a trade deal between the U.S. and South Korea that was signed in 2011.
“It’s a horrible deal, and we are going to renegotiate that deal or terminate it,” Trump said, noting that it was the responsibility of his erstwhile campaign opponent Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state in the Obama administration at the time the deal was implemented.