President Trump disagreed Monday with his national security adviser and his Japanese hosts about North Korea’s recent missile tests violating international resolutions, saying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might simply be seeking attention.
At a press conference in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr. Trump acknowledged the gap between himself and National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, who said last weekend for the first time the administration had “no doubt” that Pyongyang’s short-range missile tests in early May violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“My people think it could have been a violation. I view it differently,” Mr. Trump said. “I view it as a man. Perhaps he wants to get attention, and perhaps not. Who knows? It doesn’t matter.”
When a reporter asked whether Mr. Trump was “bothered at all” by the small missile tests, the president said, “No, I’m not. I am personally not.”
Asked whether he has confidence in Mr. Bolton, the president said, “Yes, I do.”
North Korea’s foreign ministry said Monday that Mr. Bolton is “inordinately ignorant” to argue the recent missile tests violated U.N. resolutions, calling the launches on May 4 and May 9 “normal military exercises.”
Pyongyang’s missile tests were the first since 2017, after Mr. Trump threatened “fire and fury” if Mr. Kim didn’t halt his nuclear weapons tests. The threats and crushing economic sanctions brought Mr. Kim to the bargaining table in summer 2018, although he has yet to agree to give up his weapons programs in return for promised sanctions relief.
Mr. Abe, who shares Mr. Bolton’s concerns about the missile launches, differed with the president in what was otherwise a cozy weekend of diplomacy, trade talks and pageantry.
“North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile,” Mr. Abe said. “This is violating the Security Council resolution. So my reaction is, as I said earlier on, it is of great regret.”
But he also pointed to Mr. Trump’s historic outreach to North Korea as a sea change.
“He cracked open the shell of distrust,” Mr. Abe said twice. “This was a new approach, which I welcome.”
The prime minister said he and Mr. Trump “spent a good amount of time in better aligning our policies” on North Korea.
“The positions of Japan and the United States in this regard are completely on the same page,” he said.
Late on Memorial Day, early Tuesday in Japan, the president addressed American sailors aboard the U.S.S. Wasp, an amphibious assault ship. He also visited a Japanese helicopter carrier with Mr. Abe at Yokosuka Naval Base, which the U.S. shares with Japan.
Referring to a mass stabbing incident earlier in the day in Tokyo in which 16 people were injured, Mr. Trump said, “All Americans stand with the people of Japan and the victims and grieve with their families.”
North Korea’s increasing belligerence since a failed second denuclearization summit with Mr. Trump in Vietnam in late February is raising concern in Congress, including among some Republican lawmakers.
“I find [the missile tests] very disturbing, and certainly wouldn’t trust Kim Jong-un,” Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think we need to keep our eyes on North Korea. I understand the president wants to maintain a relationship with North Korea so that we can work with them. However, those strikes are disturbing.”
The president said Monday he is in “no rush” for a denuclearization deal with Pyongyang, because sanctions are in place and American hostages have been returned by North Korea.
Mr. Trump also said Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons tests and missile launches “seems to have stopped, only time will tell.”
“Let’s see if something constructive can be done,” he said. “If you look back at the last two years, it’s been a big difference. No rocket testing, no nuclear testing. I personally think that lots of good things will come with North Korea, I feel that. I may be right, I may be wrong — but I feel that. There’s a good respect built, maybe a great respect built between the United States and North Korea.”
The topic of North Korea was at the forefront during the three-day visit by the president and first lady Melania Trump to Japan to mark the ascension of the new emperor, Naruhito.
The Trumps exchanged gifts with the emperor and Empress Masako on their “state call,” the first by any world leader to the new emperor.
Mr. Trump presented the emperor with an American-made 1938 viola in a custom case and a signed photo of American composer Aaron Copland. The first lady presented the empress with a custom White House desk set featuring a pen made of Harvard University tree wood; Masako studied economics at Harvard.
Mr. Trump, Mr. Abe and their wives also met with Japanese families of those abducted by North Korea decades ago. Many held photos of their relatives.
It was Mr. Trump’s second meeting about the families, and he said the issue is “very much on my mind.” Mr. Abe thanked the president for raising the issue with Mr. Kim at his second denuclearization summit in Vietnam, a meeting that ended abruptly without any deal.
“The United States will continue to support Japan’s efforts to bring these abductees home,” Mr. Trump said. Mr. Abe is lobbying for his own face-to-face meeting with Mr. Kim, to press the issue that he calls his top priority.
During the meeting with the victims’ families, Mr. Trump said “their stories are very sad … in some cases, I’m hearing them the second time.”
The president previously met the families of victims during a visit to Tokyo in November 2017.