HANOI • US President Donald Trump took his verbal jousting with Kim Jong Un to a new level yesterday, taunting the North Korean leader over his height and weight before musing over the idea of them eventually becoming friends.
While they have never met, Mr Trump and Mr Kim have form when it comes to name-calling, with the US President a more than willing match for the highly rhetorical flourishes deployed by his adversary in Pyongyang.
Mr Trump has referred to Mr Kim as a "madman" and "Rocket Man" while the 33-year-old responded by calling the 71-year-old former reality TV star a "mentally deranged dotard".
Yesterday, Mr Trump got down to basics, with a sarcastic tweet prompted by recent descriptions of him in the North's state media as a "lunatic old man".
"Why would Kim Jong Un insult me by calling me 'old', when I would NEVER call him 'short and fat'?" the President tweeted from Hanoi - on the latest leg of a lengthy Asia tour that had, until then, appeared to have moderated his Twitter habit.
"Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!" he wrote.
Questioned later about his tweet, Mr Trump insisted he had not been entirely joking about one day befriending the man he described just last week as a dictator with "twisted fantasies".
"That might be a strange thing to happen but it's certainly a possibility," he told reporters at a press conference in the Vietnamese capital.
"If that did happen, it would be a good thing, I can tell you, for North Korea...I don't know that it will, but it would be very, very nice if it did," he added.
Vietnam and the United States also signed a raft of energy and aviation deals yesterday during a visit to Hanoi by Mr Trump, who railed against Washington's yawning trade deficit with the fast-growing nation.
National carrier Vietnam Airlines signed a deal worth US$1.5 billion (S$2 billion) for engines and support services from US firm Pratt & Whitney, which the airline said would boost US-Vietnam ties.
Mr Trump has accused Vietnam and China, two key Asian manufacturing hubs, of "stealing" American jobs and blamed previous US administrations for allowing trade deficits to grow unchecked.
Yesterday, he again complained about the United States' gaping trade deficit with Vietnam, worth US$32 billion last year.
"We have to get rid of the trading imbalance, we can't have a trade imbalance," he said at the beginning of a meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
At the news conference, Mr Trump distanced himself from remarks he had made last Saturday in which he suggested that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin when he said there had been no Russian meddling in the election that took him to the White House.
The comments had drawn criticism at home because US intelligence agencies have long since concluded there was Russian meddling.
"As to whether I believe it or not, I'm with our agencies, especially as currently constituted," Mr Trump said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS