South Korean president says Kim Jong Un is "not rational," but still wants dialogue

Last Updated Jun 20, 2017 12:46 PM EDT

Newly-elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is "not a rational person," but he still wants to restart dialogue with the reclusive regime.

"So I believe what Kim Jong Un would want the most is to have a security guarantee for his regime. So there is a possibility that Kim Jong Un continues to make the bluff with his nuclear weapons programs. But deep inside he is actually yearning or wanting dialogue. But in the end, the only way to find out is to have a dialogue with North Korea," Moon told "CBS This Morning" co-host Norah O'Donnell in his first one-on-one interview since he was elected.

President Trump will welcome Moon next week at the White House for a summit, and the North will be at the top of the agenda. North Korea has recently escalated its missile tests, and U.S. intelligence believes North Korea is on its way to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM.

"Would you oppose a preemptive strike by the United States to take that out before the test?" O'Donnell asked.

"I believe when it comes to North Korea's nuclear missile threats, it is the Republic of Korea that is more dire. For the United States, the North Korean threat is a future threat that is on the horizon. But for us this is a matter of life and death," Moon said. "When it comes to preemptive strike that you mentioned, I believe that this is something we may – we can discuss at a later stage when the threat has become even more urgent."

In regards to his White House meeting with President Trump next week, Moon highlighted the importance of working together with the U.S.

"The two of us will be both in office and working together for the next five years. And the two of us also share the common goals of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, and building peace and security in Northeast Asia," Moon said. "So, if the two of us could pull together and accomplish these common goals, then I believe that this will be the most fruitful achievements that we can – that we can achieve during our terms in office. And I also believe that this will be the greatest diplomatic achievements for President Trump as well."

Moon pointed to the Trump administration calling the North Korea threat a top priority.
                                                                                                                 
"Also because this is something that all of the former U.S. administrations could not achieve," he said. "And so, I highly commend President Trump's placing such great importance on the North Korean nuclear issue, and I also believe that thanks to President Trump's approach and attitude, there is a possibility of resolving this issue."

Moon said he hopes he will be able to meet with Kim Jong Un "before the end of the year" if the conditions "become right" for dialogue.
                                                                                                                  
"Just because we believe that dialogue is necessary does not mean that we have to be impatient for dialogue," Moon said. "And so what I hope to achieve by the end of this year is to draw North Korea out to the table for negotiation through the implementation of various and strong sanctions and pressure."

"You have laid out very ambitious goals," O'Donnell said. "How can you achieve what others have been unable to achieve?"

"There was a time when we got very close to achieving that goal," Moon responded. "This is not my unilateral initiative. This is also an initiative that had been pursued by the United States in the past."

"And you will ask President Trump to renew that?" O'Donnell asked.

"If I have the opportunity, yes," Moon responded.

There's already been a diplomatic kerfuffle ahead of Moon's meeting with Mr. Trump, after one of his informal advisers in Washington suggested South Korea might be willing to scale back military exercises with the United States. Moon said that was not on the table, and the special adviser, who is an academic, was expressing his personal view.

"I believe that there can be many opinions on how we will draw North Korea out to dialogue. And regarding this, I believe the professionals of both Korea and the United States have many differing views on how we will achieve this," Moon said. "But I believe that when it comes to the detailed strategy and tactics on how we will achieve this, this will be – have to be discussed and agreed upon during the summit meeting with President Trump. And I believe that we will need a very strong, close collaboration between Korea and the United States for this – for us to be able to achieve this with any effect."


Full transcript below: 

O'Donnell: President Trump has called Kim Jong Un a madman with nuclear weapons. Do you believe that he is a madman? And why do you wanna talk to a madman?

Moon: Kim Jong Un is not a rational person. But I would like to also note that President Trump once even mentioned that he is willing to talk with Kim Jong Un over a burger. And he has another point he mentioned that it would be an honor to be able to meet Kim Jong Un. So I believe President Trump went much further than I did.

O'Donnell: Do you believe that Kim Jong Un likes burgers?

Moon: Most likely. Maybe.

O'Donnell: Most likely.

Moon: So I believe what Kim Jong Un would want the most is to have a security guarantee for his regime. So there is a possibility that Kim Jong Un continues to make the bluff with his nuclear weapons programs. But deep inside he is actually yearning or wanting dialogue. But in the end the only way to find out is to have a dialogue with North Korea.

O'Donnell: Let me ask you, it is the view of U.S. intelligence that North Korea will likely test an ICBM this year. Would you oppose a preemptive strike by the United States to take that out before the test?

Moon: I believe when it comes to North Korea's nuclear missile threats, it is the Republic of Korea that is more dire. For the United States the North Korean threat is a future threat on the horizon. But for us this is a matter of life and death. When it comes to preemptive strike that you mentioned I believe that this is something we may-- we can discuss at a later stage when the threat has become even more urgent.

O'Donnell: So, is that your message for President Trump when you meet with him at the White House?

Moon: So I believe that we will probably have such discussions. The two of us will be both in office and working together for the next five years. And the two of us also share the common goals of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, and building peace and security in northeast Asia. So, if the two of us could pull together and accomplish these common goals then I believe that this will be the most fruitful achievements that we can achieve during our terms in office. And I also believe that this will be the greatest diplomatic achievements for President Trump as well.
                                                                                                                  
O'Donnell: You believe that his greatest diplomatic achievement will be what happens here on the Korean peninsula?

Moon: Yes, that is because President Trump has mentioned that North Korea was on the top of his priority list. And also because this is something that all of the former U.S. administrations could not achieve. And so, I highly commend President Trump's placing such great importance on the North Korean nuclear issue, and I also believe that thanks to President Trump's approach and attitude, there is a possibility of resolving this issue.
                                                                                                                  
O'Donnell: You have promised to sit knee to knee, head to head, with the North Korean dictator. Can you go to Pyongyang this year? Can you meet with him this year?

Moon: I certainly hope that the conditions could become right for such dialogue before the end of the year. And just because we believe that dialogue is necessary does not mean that we have be impatient for dialog. And so what I hope to achieve by the end of this year is to draw North Korea out to the table for negotiation through the implementation of various and strong sanctions and pressure.

O'Donnell:
You have laid out very ambitious goals… How can you achieve what others have been unable to achieve?

Moon: There was a time when we got very close to achieving that goal… This is not my unilateral initiative. This is also an initiative that had been pursued by the United States in the past.

O'Donnell: And you will President Trump to renew that?

Moon: If I have the opportunity, yes.

O'Donnell: Thank you, Mr. President.