WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. and China agree that North Korea cannot just freeze its nuclear weapons program in exchange for concessions and that it must eliminate its arsenal.
Trump was restating a long-standing U.S. position but suggested that China now concurred with Washington that a “freeze-for-freeze” agreement was unacceptable.
China and Russia have proposed that as a way to restart long-stalled negotiations: that the North could freeze its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for the U.S. and its close ally South Korea stopping regular military drills that Pyongyang considers as preparation for invasion.
China has not made a public disavowal of the proposal. China said Wednesday that it would send a high-level special envoy to North Korea amid an extended chill in relations between the neighbors.
Trump was speaking a day after he returned from a 12-day trip through Asia that included a state visit to China, where he was hosted by President Xi Jinping.
“President Xi recognizes that a nuclear North Korea is a grave threat to China, and we agreed that we would not accept a so-called freeze for freeze agreement, like those that have consistently failed in the past,” Trump said.
He said that Xi pledged to implement U.N. sanctions that aim to deprive North Korea of revenues for its weapons programs “and to use his great economic influence over the regime to achieve our common goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.”
China is North Korea’s traditional ally and accounts for about 90 percent of the isolated nation’s external trade — including virtually all its oil supplies.
Speaking at the White House, Trump cast his Asian sojourn as a “tremendous success,” saying the United States was feted by foreign leaders and asserted its strength in the world.
“America’s renewed confidence and standing in the world has never been stronger than it is right now,” Trump said, detailing his stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Trump said he had three goals on the trip: to unite the world against North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, to strengthen alliances in the region and to insist on “fair and reciprocal trade.”
Trump pledged to work “as fast as possible” to eliminate sizable trade deficits with U.S. trading partners. He said it was “unacceptable” that the U.S. trade deficit with other nations stands at about $800 billion a year and promised to “start whittling that down as fast as possible.” He did not say how he planned to achieve that goal.
Earlier, Trump used social media to spar with media coverage of his trip.
He tweeted criticism at The New York Times. He said the paper “hates” that he has good relationships with world leaders and “they should realize that these relationships are a good thing, not a bad thing.” He called the paper “naive (or dumb)” on foreign policy.
The president also tweeted Wednesday that he was “forced” to watch CNN during the trip and “again realized how bad, and FAKE, it is.”
Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.