With the field of presidential candidates narrowed down to three, here is a look at some of the more recent comments by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump on the Korean peninsula.
In response to a question about the biggest national security threat to the United States
“We do have to worry about North Korea. They continue to develop their nuclear weapons capability, and they’re working very hard on their ballistic missile capability.
And, I know that some of those plans could very well lead to a missile that might reach Hawaii, if not the West Coast. We do have to try to get the countries in the region to work with us to do everything we can to confine, and constrain them.”
In response to a question about TPP
“I did help to renegotiate the trade agreement that we inherited from President Bush with Korea. We go the UAW on board because of changes we made. So there are changes that I believe would make a real difference if they could be achieved, but I do not currently support it as it is written.”
Responding to Trump’s comments on South Korea/Japan going nuclear
“Being a loose cannon means saying that other nations should go ahead and acquire nuclear weapons for themselves — when that is the last thing we need in the world today…Being a loose cannon is saying we should pull out of NATO — the strongest military alliance in the history of the world, and something that we really need to modernize, but not abandon.”
In response to a question about the biggest national security threat to the United States
“Clearly North Korea is a very strange situation because it is such an isolated country run by a handful of dictators, or maybe just one, who seems to be somewhat paranoid. And, who had nuclear weapons.
And, our goal there, in my view, is to work and lean strongly on China to put as much pressure. China is one of the few major countries in the world that has significant support for North Korea, and I think we got to do everything we can to put pressure on China. I worry very much about an isolated, paranoid country with atomic bombs.
I think, clearly, we got to work closely with China to resolve the serious problems we have, and I worry about Putin and his military adventurism in the Crimea and the Ukraine.”
“I worry very, very much about an isolated country. That’s what makes me nervous. Russia lives in the world. China lives in the world. North Korea is a very, very strange country because it is so isolated, and I do feel that a nation with nuclear weapons, they have got to be dealt with. Dealt with effectively.”
“The closest partner of North Korea is Iran. Why didn’t we put something in there when we’re making a deal, and we’re giving them $150 billion — why didn’t we do something with Iran where Iran gets in, and we force Iran to get in and do something with North Korea? We don’t do anything. We should have, when we made that deal. That deal is a horror show. It’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”
In response to a question on South Korea paying for the United States more for its defense
“Well, you know, at some point, there is going to be a point at which we just can’t do this anymore. And, I know the upsides and the downsides. But right now we’re protecting, we’re basically protecting Japan, and we are, every time North Korea raises its head, you know, we get calls from Japan and we get calls from everybody else, and “Do something.” And there’ll be a point at which we’re just not going to be able to do it anymore. Now, does that mean nuclear? It could mean nuclear. It’s a very scary nuclear world. Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation. At the same time, you know, we’re a country that doesn’t have money. You know, when we did these deals, we were a rich country. We’re not a rich country. We were a rich country with a very strong military and tremendous capability in so many ways. We’re not anymore. We have a military that’s severely depleted. We have nuclear arsenals which are in very terrible shape. They don’t even know if they work.”
In response to question on whether Korea and Japan should have nuclear weapons
“Well, it’s a position that we have to talk about, and it’s a position that at some point is something that we have to talk about, and if the United States keeps on its path, its current path of weakness, they’re going to want to have that anyway with or without me discussing it, because I don’t think they feel very secure in what’s going on with our country, David. You know, if you look at how we backed our enemies, it hasn’t – how we backed our allies – it hasn’t exactly been strong. When you look at various places throughout the world, it hasn’t been very strong. And I just don’t think we’re viewed the same way that we were 20 or 25 years ago, or 30 years ago. And, you know, I think it’s a problem. You know, something like that, unless we get very strong, very powerful and very rich, quickly, I’m sure those things are being discussed over there anyway without our discussion.”
“Um, at some point, we cannot be the policeman of the world. And unfortunately, we have a nuclear world now. And you have, Pakistan has them. You have, probably, North Korea has them. I mean, they don’t have delivery yet, but you know, probably, I mean to me, that’s a big problem. And, would I rather have North Korea have them with Japan sitting there having them also? You may very well be better off if that’s the case. In other words, where Japan is defending itself against North Korea, which is a real problem. You very well may have a better case right there. We certainly haven’t been able to do much with him and with North Korea. But you may very well have a better case. You know, one of the things with the, with our Japanese relationship, and I’m a big fan of Japan, by the way. I have many, many friends there. I do business with Japan. But, that, if we are attacked, they don’t have to do anything. If they’re attacked, we have to go out with full force. You understand. That’s a pretty one-sided agreement, right there. In other words, if we’re attacked, they do not have to come to our defense, if they’re attacked, we have to come totally to their defense. And that is a, that’s a real problem.”
In response to a question on whether he would withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea if it did not pay more
“Yes, I would. I would not do so happily, but I would be willing to do it. Not happily. David actually asked me that question before, this morning before we sort of finalized out. The answer is not happily but the answer is yes. We cannot afford to be losing vast amounts of billions of dollars on all of this. We just can’t do it anymore. Now there was a time when we could have done it. When we started doing it. But we can’t do it anymore. And I have a feeling that they’d up the ante very much. I think they would, and if they wouldn’t I would really have to say yes.”
In response to follow up questions on whether Japan and South Korea should have their own nuclear deterrents
“You know you’re more right except for the fact that you have North Korea which is acting extremely aggressively, very close to Japan. And had you not had that, I would have felt much, I would have felt differently. You have North Korea, and we are very far away and we are protecting a lot of different people and I don’t know that we are necessarily equipped to protect them. And if we didn’t have the North Korea threat, I think I’d feel a lot differently, David.”
“Well I think maybe it’s not so bad to have Japan — if Japan had that nuclear threat, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us.”
“Well, because of North Korea. Because of North Korea. Because we don’t know what he’s going to do. We don’t know if he’s all bluster or is he a serious maniac that would be willing to use it. I was talking about before, the deterrent in some people’s minds was that the consequence is so great that nobody would ever use it. Well that may have been true at one point but you have many people that would use it right now in this world.”
“I really believe that’s true. Especially because of the threat of North Korea. And they are very aggressive toward Japan. Well I mean look, he’s aggressive toward everybody. Except for China and Iran.
See we should use our economic power to have them disarm — now then it becomes different, then it becomes purely economic, but then it becomes different. China has great power over North Korea even though they don’t necessarily say that. Now, Iran, we had a great opportunity during this negotiation when we gave them the 150 billion and many other things. Iran is the No. 1 trading partner of North Korea. Now we could have put something in our agreement that they would have led the charge if we had people with substance and with brainpower and with some negotiating ability. But the No. 1 trading partner with North Korea is Iran. And we did a deal with them, and we just did a deal with them, and we don’t even mention North Korea in the deal. That was a great opportunity to put another five pages in the deal, or less, and they do have a great influence over North Korea. Same thing with China, China has great influence over North Korea but they don’t say they do because they’re tweaking us. I have this from Chinese. I have many Chinese friends, I have people of vast wealth, some of the most important people in China have purchased apartments from me for tens of millions of dollars and frankly I know them very well. And I ask them about their relationship to North Korea, these are top people. And they say we have tremendous power over North Korea. I know they do. I think you know they do.”
In response to questions on trade with North Korea
“So much of their lifeblood comes through China, that’s the way it comes through. They have tremendous power over North Korea, but China doesn’t say that. China says well we’ll try. I can see them saying, “We’ll try, we’ll try.” And I can see them laughing in the room next door when they’re together. So China should be talking to North Korea. But China’s tweaking us. China’s toying with us. They are when they’re building in the South China Sea. They should not be doing that but they have no respect for our country and they have no respect for our president. So, and the other one, and this is an opportunity passed because why would Iran go back and renegotiate it having to do with North Korea? But Iran is the No. 1 trading partner, but we should have had something in that document that was signed having to do with North Korea as the No. 1 trading partner and as somebody with a certain power because of that. A very substantial power over North Korea.”
“Well that is true but I’ve heard it both ways. They are certainly major arms exchangers, which in itself is terrible that we would make a deal with somebody that’s a major arms exchanger with North Korea. But had that deal not been done and they were desperate to do it, and they wanted to do it much more so than we know in my opinion, meaning Iran wanted to make the deal much more than we know. We should have backed off that deal, doubled the sanctions and made a real deal. And part of that deal should have been that Iran would help us with North Korea. So, the bottom line is, I think that frankly, as long as North Korea’s there, I think that Japan having a capability is something that maybe is going to happen whether we like it or not.”
In response to questions on nuclear non-proliferation and comments to the New York Times that perhaps South Korea and Japan should develop nuclear weapons
“No, not at all. Look, you have North Korea has nuclear weapons. And he doesn’t have a carrier yet but he has got nuclear weapons. He soon will have. We don’t want to pull the trigger. We’re just – you know, we have a president, frankly, that doesn’t – nobody is afraid of our president. Nobody respects our president. You take a look at what’s going on throughout the world. It’s not the country that it was…. We owe $19 trillion, we have another $2 trillion because of the very, very bad omnibus budget that was just signed. It’s a disgrace, which gives everything that Obama wanted. We get nothing. They get everything.
“So that’s going to be $21 trillion. We are supporting nations now, militarily, we are supporting nations like Saudi Arabia which was making during the good oil days which was a year ago, now they’re making less but still a lot, $1 billion a day.
We are supporting them, militarily, and pay us a fraction, a fraction of what they should be paying us and of the cost. We are supporting Japan. Most people didn’t even know that. Most people didn’t know that we are taking care of Japan’s military needs. We’re supporting Germany. We’re supporting South Korea. I order thousands of television sets because I am in the real estate business, you know, in my other life, OK.”
“At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea, we’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself.”
“Can I be honest with you? It’s going to happen, anyway. It’s going to happen anyway. It’s only a question of time. They’re going to start having them or we have to get rid of them entirely. But you have so many countries already, China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia, you have so many countries right now that have them. Now, wouldn’t you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons? And they do have them. They absolutely have them. They can’t – they have no carrier system yet but they will very soon. Wouldn’t you rather have Japan, perhaps, they’re over there, they’re very close, they’re very fearful of North Korea, and we’re supposed to protect… I don’t want more nuclear weapons. I think that – you know, when I hear Obama get up and say the biggest threat to the world today is global warming, I say, is this guy kidding?”
“There’s a benefit, but not big enough to bankrupt and destroy the United States, because that’s what’s happening. We can’t afford it. It’s very simple. Now, I would rather see Japan having some form of defense, and maybe even offense, against North Korea. Because we’re not pulling the trigger. The bottom line on North Korea is china, if they wanted to, they’re a tremendous supplier of North Korea. They have tremendous power over North Korea. If they wanted to, if they weren’t toying with us, Anderson, China would be the one that would get in and could make a deal in one day, okay.”
“We spend a fortune on defending South Korea. Now I order thousands and — thousands of television sets here, they come from South Korea. They make so much. They’re making a fortune. They’re a behemoth. So is Germany. Why are we defending them? Why aren’t they reimbursing us? Why aren’t they paying a good portion of the costs?… They’re going to get it because it’s in their best interest. If we have to walk, we have to walk.”
Question on South Korea and Japan developing nuclear capabilities
“No, what I said is, “I’ll keep it the way it is but they have to pay their fair share. Just so you understand, South Korea is a behemoth. They make so much. The ships of the world, the great ships of the world — you can’t buy televisions anymore unless you go to South Korea — other than Sony which is in Japan.
Question on whether removing U.S. troops would be wise given the experience of the Korean War
“I’ll tell you — I’ll tell you — I’ll tell what — the Korean War. OK, so we compete with South Korea — I have buildings in South Korea, I get along great with the people in South Korea. Do you know that the top people cannot believe — of course, they didn’t know I was going to be running for president — they used to tell me — they don’t tell me that anymore — they cannot believe they get away with what they get away with.”
“I would rather have them not arm, but I’m not going to continue to lose this tremendous amount of money. And frankly, the case could be made that let them protect themselves against North Korea. They’d probably wipe them out pretty quick… If they fight, you know what, that’d be a terrible thing. Terrible. But if they do, they do.”
“President Obama watches helplessly as North Korea increases its aggression and expands even further with its nuclear reach. Our president has allowed China to continue its economic assault on American jobs and wealth, refusing to enforce trade rules – or apply the leverage on China necessary to rein in North Korea.”
“You tell them (Chinese), we are going to – either you are going to have to straighten out this North Korea problem or we are not going to be doing so much business with you…Here is what we do. China has tremendous power over North Korea, tremendous, beyond anybody. Now they do not tell us that. They like to tweak us and say, well, we do not really. They have total control. China cannot even survive without us because economically they have been ripping us for many years to come. They have been sucking our blood… They do not do so much business with us, they would have a depression the likes of which you have ever seen. We have tremendous power, economic power over China. I want to get along with China. We are going to get along with China. But China can strangle because it comes in through China. And China is powerful. China can strangle North Korea. It can make them – bring them to the table.”
In regards to North Korea policy and meeting Kim Jong-un
“I would speak to him, I would have no problem speaking to him,” Trump said of Kim.
“I would put a lot of pressure on China because economically we have tremendous power over China.”
Quotes collected by Jenna Gibson and Troy Stangarone of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the candidates’ alone.
Photo from Nicolas Karim’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.