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Trump Visits South Korea, Meets Its President


We're tracking President Trump's progress on his tour of Asia. This morning, he is in South Korea. He visited the U.S. and South Korean troops at a military base just south of Seoul. And talking about the threat from North Korea, Trump was noticeably restrained, saying he hopes everything, quote, "will all work out." NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with President Trump and joins me now.

Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So that does sound much more restrained from President Trump than usual. What exactly did he say about North Korea, which, you know, we should say is a country that's - that he's almost in sight of?

HORSLEY: Well, he has also talked about the show of force the U.S. has made, putting aircraft carriers in the neighborhood along with a submarine. Throughout this trip, he's also lobbying other countries to put more pressure, especially economic pressure, on North Korea. That's something he's going to discuss tomorrow when he gives a speech at the National Assembly here in Seoul, and he's also celebrating South Korea's decision to buy some additional American military hardware.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We make the greatest military equipment in the world. Whether it's planes, whether it's missiles, no matter what it is, we have the greatest military equipment in the world, and South Korea will be ordering billions of dollars of that equipment.

HORSLEY: Throughout this trip, Trump has been acting as a sort of arms merchant in chief. Both here and in Japan, he touted U.S. military hardware both as a way to help America's allies defend themselves against North Korean aggression but also as kind of an economic development boost for America's defense contractors and their employees.

GREENE: Huh, but when it comes to North Korea, I mean, it sounds like less bellicose language and more just reminding Pyongyang that there is some military hardware out there that would await them if they did anything.

HORSLEY: That's right.

GREENE: You know, let me ask you this, Scott. One thing we talked about before this trip is that President Trump really seems to like the one-on-one diplomatic relationships more than big summits. Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe - he and Trump seemed to get along. It doesn't seem that cozy yet, though, with South Korea's leader.

HORSLEY: There was no golf match here in Seoul, but President Moon Jae-in is certainly trying to cultivate a relationship with President Trump. He hosted a ceremonial tea this afternoon for the president and first lady. The Koreans also staged a friendship walk around the leafy grounds of the Blue House, which is South Korea's White House. And finally, Moon played to Trump's ego just as Japan's Shinzo Abe did. He publicly praised Trump for, in his words, great progress on making America great again.

GREENE: And I mean, Trump actually got some really pointed questions, though, from the South Korean press, right?

HORSLEY: He was asked about the $11 billion price tag for that military base he visited. Remember, during the campaign, Trump suggested that South Korea wasn't spending enough on its own defense.

GREENE: Right.

HORSLEY: He called them a free rider on the U.S. military. South Korea actually has a pretty hefty defense budget, relative to the size of its economy. Trump says it's appropriate that South Korea paid most of the cost of that expanded military base since it's for this country's defense. And in classic Trump fashion, he also boasted, he could've built a base for a lot less.

GREENE: Always the businessman. We should mention, for the second day in a row - right? - on this trip, the president was asked about the news back at home and the massacre at that Texas church.

HORSLEY: That's right. And he, again, said it's too soon to be having that conversation - at least, having a conversation about gun control. But then he grudgingly engaged with a reporter who asked if maybe would-be gun buyers should be subjected to the kind of extreme vetting that Trump had proposed for immigrants, and the president said, you know, that wouldn't have made any difference, and it might've kept the neighbor who intervened in that shooting from having a gun himself.

GREENE: Talking to NPR's Scott Horsley, who is covering the president's trip to Asia - Scott, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOKIMONSTA'S "FALLEN ARCHES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.