WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has said that Russia was helping North Korea to evade international sanctions, signalling frustration with a country he had hoped to forge friendly relations with after his 2016 election win.
"Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea," Mr Trump said during an Oval Office interview with Reuters. "What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing."
China and Russia both signed onto the latest rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea last year.
Russia's Interfax news agency cited an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry source as saying yesterday that Moscow regards Mr Trump's allegation as absolutely groundless.
Mr Trump praised China for its efforts to restrict oil and coal supplies to North Korea, but said Beijing could do much more to help constrain Pyongyang. The White House last week welcomed news that imports to China from North Korea, which counts on Beijing as its main economic partner, plunged last month to their lowest in dollar terms since at least the start of 2014.
Mr Trump said Russia appears to be filling in the gaps left by the Chinese."He can do a lot," Mr Trump said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. "But, unfortunately, we don't have much of a relationship with Russia, and in some cases it is probable that what China takes back, Russia gives. So, the net result is not as good as it could be."
In the interview on Wednesday, Mr Trump also cast doubt on whether talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be useful. "I would sit down, but I am not sure that sitting down will solve the problem," he said, noting that past negotiations had failed to rein in its nuclear and missile programmes.
He blamed his three immediate predecessors, Mr Bill Clinton, Mr George W. Bush and Mr Barack Obama, for failing to resolve the crisis and, a day after his doctor gave him a perfect score on a cognitive test, suggested he had the mental acuity to solve it. "I guess they all realised they are going to have to leave it to a president that scored the highest on tests," he joked.
He declined to comment when asked whether he had engaged in any communications at all with Mr Kim, with whom he has exchanged public insults and threats, heightening tensions in the region.
Mr Trump said he hoped the stand-off with Pyongyang could be resolved "in a peaceful way, but it is very possible that it can't".
Asked whether he thought the United States needs more missile defence systems, he said: "Yes, yes, I do. We are ordering more missile defence, and we are ordering more missile offence also."
Mr Trump said Pyongyang is steadily advancing in its ability to deliver a missile to the US. "They are not there yet, but they are close. And they get closer every day," he said.
Some experts agreed that based on the trajectory and distance of the latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Pyongyang tested last November, it had the capability to put the entire US mainland within range. They said, however, that North Korea had not yet offered proof that it had mastered all technical hurdles, including development of a re-entry vehicle needed to deliver a heavy nuclear warhead reliably atop an ICBM.
Mr Trump said he welcomed talks between North and South Korea over the Winter Olympics to be held in the South next month, and said this could be an initial phase in helping defuse the crisis.
He would not say whether the US has been considering a limited, pre-emptive attack to show the North that Washington means business. "We are playing a very, very hard game of poker and you don't want to reveal your hand," he said.
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