US President Donald Trump has said he would like to solve the North Korea crisis diplomatically, but that a “major, major conflict” is possible.
In an interview with Reuters he praised China’s President Xi Jinping for his handling of North Korea, calling him “a very good man” who loved his country.
Mr Trump also said it had been “very hard” for Kim Jong-un to take over North Korea at such a young age.
The UN Security Council is meeting to discuss North Korea on Friday.
China has told the US it will impose sanctions on North Korea if it conducts further nuclear tests, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that tensions on the Korean peninsula risked getting out of control.
Shortly after being elected, Mr Trump accused China of not doing enough to rein in North Korea and suggested the US could take unilateral action.
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But in his wide-ranging interview inside the Oval Office, Mr Trump – who met Mr Xi earlier this month – said the Chinese president “certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death”.
“He is a very good man and I got to know him very well,” he said.
“He loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t.”
Of Mr Kim, he said: “He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age.”
But he stressed he was “not giving him credit”, and added: “I hope he’s rational.”
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” said Mr Trump.
North Korea has carried out repeated missile tests in recent months and is threatening to conduct its sixth nuclear test.
Other developments have raised tensions in recent weeks:
- North Korea executed a failed missile launch and held a massive military parade in an apparent show of strength
- The US deployed a group of warships and a submarine to the region
- Pyongyang reacted angrily, threatening a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike”
- The US began installing a controversial $1bn (£775m) anti-missile system system called Thaad in South Korea – which Mr Trump said South Korea should pay for. Seoul said on Friday there was “no change” in its position that the US pays for it
- Mr Tillerson and US Vice President Mike Pence visited South Korea, reiterating that “all options are on the table” in dealing with the North
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Tillerson told Fox News that China had again urged North Korea to refrain from carrying out more tests.
In February, China banned coal imports from North Korea – one of the country’s key exports – and is reportedly also considering restricting oil shipments if Pyongyang continues to behave belligerently.
What else did Mr Trump say?
The president reflected on how the demands of his job were greater than his “previous life”, which he said he had loved.
“You’re really into your own little cocoon, because you have such massive protection that you really can’t go anywhere,” he said.
“I like to drive. I can’t drive any more.”
On other key topics, Mr Trump said:
- He would speak to Mr Xi before again contacting Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, after China lodged a formal complaint over a phone call he made in December
- He said so-called Islamic State must be eradicated and that Islamist extremism had to be defeated – “and it has to be humiliation”
- He could see no reason why Israel and the Palestinians should not make peace
Earlier, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin called for the resumption of talks with North Korea.
Speaking in Moscow, where he met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he urged those involved to “refrain from using belligerent rhetoric”.
Trump fears ‘major, major conflict’ with North Korea}