PHOENIX (Arizona) • US President Donald Trump has said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is beginning to respect the United States, in the latest comments that suggest his administration is moving closer to seeking talks over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal.
Mr Trump's remarks came hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said talks with the nuclear-armed North over its banned weapons programmes might be possible "in the near future".
The comments are a marked contrast to the rhetoric of recent weeks, when Mr Trump spoke of raining "fire and fury" on the North, and come as tensions have eased after Mr Kim pulled back from a plan to send a salvo of missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam.
Analysts also noted yesterday the lack of the usual bluster against the US in a North Korean state media report, which said its leader Kim had ordered the production of more solid-fuel rocket engines. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report about a visit by Mr Kim to a chemical institute came not long after Mr Tillerson appeared to make the peace overture.
Mr Kim was briefed about the process of manufacturing intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warhead tips and solid-fuel rocket engines during his tour of the Chemical Material Institute of the Academy of Defence Science, KCNA said.
Analysts said images released by KCNA on Mr Kim's visit to the chemical institute revealed major advances and ambitions.
RHETORIC 'BEARING FRUIT'
Some people said it was too strong. It's not strong enough. But Kim Jong Un, I respect the fact that, I believe, he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact very much. And maybe, probably not, but maybe, something positive can come about.
'' PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, on how he believes his aggressive rhetoric is working.
Mr Kim, in a black suit, was shown next to a large brown tube that Mr Joshua Pollack of the US Middlebury Institute of International Studies said on Twitter was a "wound fibre cylinder, evidently a large-diameter solid-rocket motor casing in the making".
Such casings are harder to manufacture than metal ones, but are much lighter, enabling longer ranges and heavier payloads. Other pictures included missile schematics and what appeared to be production processes. But analysts said many of the elements on show were objectives rather than currently existing technology.
North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and dozens of missile tests since the beginning of last year, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions and significantly raising tensions on the heavily militarised Korean peninsula. Two ICBM tests last month resulted in a new round of tougher global sanctions. The last missile test on July 28 put the US mainland in range, prompting heated exchanges that raised fears of a new conflict on the peninsula.
Mr Tillerson, however, noted what he called the restraint the North had shown and said he hoped a path could be opening for dialogue. Shortly afterwards, at a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Arizona, Mr Trump said his aggressive rhetoric was starting to bear fruit.
"Some people said it was too strong. It's not strong enough," he told thousands of supporters. "But Kim Jong Un, I respect the fact that, I believe, he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact very much.
"And maybe, probably not, but maybe, something positive can come about," Mr Trump said.
South Korea and the US are conducting an annual military exercise this week involving computer simulations of a war. The drills, which the North routinely describes as preparation for invasion, will run until Aug 31.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that a military conflict with North Korea could be avoided, adding that Germany could help find a diplomatic solution to Pyongyang's stand-off with the US.
"We should do more," she said, referring to Germany and the European Union.
"We cannot simply insist on a diplomatic solution while we sit and do nothing," she said at an event yesterday organised by the Handelsblatt business daily.
Dr Merkel, who is expected to win an election next month, said EU countries like Germany and France could play an active role in securing a peaceful solution to the stand-off like they did in talks with Iran over its nuclear programme.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE