In an apparent contradiction of his national security adviser, Donald Trump on Sunday downplayed recent North Korean missile tests, tweeting from Tokyo that they’re not a concern for him - even though they are for Japan.
The US president also said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s attacks on one of his Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, had made him smile.
The remarks were the latest example of Mr Trump’s willingness to publicly undermine senior advisers, flout Democratic norms and side with totalitarian leaders, even on the world stage.
He did so this time during a four-day state visit to Japan where he’ll become the first leader to meet with the country’s new emperor.
"North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me," Mr Trump tweeted in one of a flurry of early morning messages that suggested he’d spent little time sleeping after the lengthy flight to Asia.
North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2019
"Some" of his "people" appear to include national security adviser John Bolton, who told reporters at a briefing on Saturday ahead of Mr Trump’s arrival that a series of short-range missile tests by North Korea earlier this month were a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
"In terms of violating UN Security Council resolutions, there is no doubt about that," said Mr Bolton, responding to the May 4 and 9 tests that ended a pause in launches that began in late 2017. Mr Trump ignored a shouted question on Sunday about whether he agreed with Mr Bolton’s assessment.
Mr Trump and other administration officials have sought to downplay the significance of the tests, insisting they do not violate an agreement Mr Trump reached with Kim for a moratorium on launches.
"The moratorium was focused, very focused, on intercontinental missile systems, the ones that threaten the United States," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a recent television interview. That raised alarm bells in Japan, where short-range missiles pose a serious threat because of the country’s proximity to North Korea.
Mr Trump in his tweet said he had "confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me," while at the same time embracing Kim’s recent attacks on Mr Biden, whose name he misspelled.
Mr Trump said he "smiled" when Kim "called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse."
"Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?" Mr Trump asked.
Mr Trump later offered a new tweet with the correct "Biden" spelling.
North Korea this week labelled Biden a "fool of low IQ" and an "imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being" after the US presidential hopeful accused Mr Trump of cozying up to "dictators and tyrants" like Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin during his campaign launch speech.
Mr Biden’s campaign would not comment on the record on Sunday, but a spokesman for his campaign, Andrew Bates, said on Wednesday that, "Given Vice President Biden’s record of standing up for American values and interests, it’s no surprise that North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House."
令和初の国賓としてお迎えしたトランプ大統領と千葉でゴルフです。新しい令和の時代も日米同盟をさらに揺るぎないものとしていきたいと考えています。 pic.twitter.com/8ol8790xWY— 安倍晋三 (@AbeShinzo) May 26, 2019
The tweet came early on Sunday before Mr Trump left his hotel for a round of golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
He’ll also be attending a sumo wrestling match and handing out a "President’s Cup" to the winner as part of a visit meant to showcase the close ties between the nations.