North Korea Blasts ‘Old, Erratic’ Trump as Rhetoric Heats Up

Jihye Lee

(Bloomberg) -- North Korea took its most personal swipe at President Donald Trump in more than two years, saying the U.S. leader’s recent comments made him sound like a “heedless and erratic old man.”

The statement released by North Korean official Kim Yong Chol on Monday was the latest in a rhetorical tit-for-tat ahead of Pyongyang’s self-imposed year-end deadline for a breakthrough in nuclear talks. On Sunday, Trump played down warnings from the regime, saying in a tweet that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was “too smart and has far too much to lose” to renew hostility with the U.S.

“This naturally indicates that Trump is an old man bereft of patience,” said Kim Yong Chol, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. “As he is such a heedless and erratic old man, the time when we can not but call him a ‘dotard’ again may come.”

The personal insults recalled the tense days of 2017, when an escalating series of North Korean missile tests led Trump to mock Kim as “Rocket Man” while threatening to totally destroy the country. North Korea later dismissed Trump as a “dotard” before both men put their public animosities aside for unprecedented nuclear talks that resulted in three face-to-face meetings, but no disarmament deal.

South Korea sees a possibility of a further North Korean provocation before Christmas, potentially the launch of a satellite on a ballistic-missile class projectile, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said, citing an unidentified government source. The U.S. will propose that UN Security Council discussions on North Korea this week include recent missile launches and the possibility of further escalation, according to a State Department official.

‘Personal Attack’

The latest North Korean statements suggest that Kim Jong Un’s opinion of Trump, 73, “may change,” if the U.S. leader didn’t change course. “If the U.S. has no will and wisdom, it can not but watch with anxiety the reality in which the threat to its security increases with the passage of time,” said Kim Yong Chol.

Until April, Kim Yong Chol -- who’s also 73 -- was vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party and met with Trump twice at the White House ahead of summits between the two leaders. Most recently, state media have described him as chairman of the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.

The latest comments were a warning that Kim Jong Un himself will make a statement soon, according to Cheong Seong-chang, researcher of The Sejong Institute, calling Kim Yong Chol the John Bolton of North Korea. “These statements don’t publish without Kim’s approval, so it’s no different from Kim borrowing the platforms of his high-level officials to deliver his feelings about Trump’s recent name-calling,” Cheong said.

North Korea is reaching the end of what has been by some measures a record year for the regime’s missiles tests, including the launch of two short-range ballistic missiles in late November. Still, Kim has refrained from tests of nuclear bombs and missiles capable of carrying them to the U.S. for more than two years as he pursued talks with Trump.

But in recent months, he has warned that he would find a “new path” if the U.S. doesn’t ease up on sanctions and other policies that Pyongyang views as hostile. The Trump administration has called for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons before it can receive rewards, a move Pyongyang sees as political suicide.

Later Monday, another North Korea official issued a statement saying that Kim Jong Un would make his “final judgment and decision” on the situation at the end of the year. “Trump would be well advised to quit abusive language which may further offend the chairman,” said Ri Su Yong, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party, according to KCNA.

(Updates with report South Korea seeing possibility of provocation before Christmas in fifth paragraph)

--With assistance from Isabel Reynolds.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jihye Lee in Seoul at jlee2352@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Ruth Pollard

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