President Donald Trump on Friday defended his warm praise of Kim Jong Un, saying his newfound affinity for the North Korean dictator was making Americans safer.
At the same time, Trump expressed esteem for the forced deference North Koreans show for their leader and joked he wished “my people” would do the same.
Asked why he’s warmed to Kim, Trump insisted he was defusing a nuclear standoff.
“I don’t want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family,” he told reporters during an impromptu question-and-answer session at the White House.
“I want to have a good relationship with North Korea. I want to have a good relationship with many other countries,” Trump said. “We had great chemistry. He gave us a lot.”
The remarks, which came three days after Trump met Kim in Singapore for an unprecedented and friendly summit, are likely to do little to allay concerns that Trump has shown too much regard for a brutal despot, one responsible for the death of at least one American and of countless North Koreans.
Pressed on that record, Trump demurred.
“I can’t speak to that,” he said. “I can only speak to the fact that we signed an incredible agreement.”
Since returning from his summit with Kim, Trump has referred to Kim as “funny,” “smart,” “very talented,” and someone who “loves his people.”
He’s also spoken with barely contained awe about the displays of reverence North Koreans are obligated to show toward their supreme leader.
“He’s the head of the country,” Trump said of Kim Friday during a live interview on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.” “And I mean he’s the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different.”
“He speaks and his people sit up at attention,” the President added. “I want my people to do the same.”
Later Friday, Trump told reporters at the White House his remark was a joke.
“I was kidding,” he said. “You don’t understand sarcasm.”
North Korea has perpetuated human rights abuses for decades, according to watchdog agencies, human rights groups and the US government.
In his first five years in power, Kim has ordered 340 people to be executed, about 140 were senior officers in the country’s government and military, according to a 2016 report from the Institute for National Security Strategy, a South Korean think tank.
In June 2016, a top education official was executed by firing squad after he exercised a “bad attitude” at the country’s Supreme People’s Assembly. Kim’s defense minister was executed in May 2015 with an anti-aircraft gun at a Pyongyang military school, before an audience.
According to Trump, the two leaders privately discussed human rights and Kim reacted “very well” during their Tuesday summit.
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.
This story has been updated.