WASHINGTON ― In the final presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle, former Vice President Joe Biden attacked President Donald Trump over his chummy relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who recently unveiled a new, larger intercontinental ballistic missile.
Trump noted that Biden and President Barack Obama had not curtailed Kim’s nuclear ambitions, and then falsely claimed that Obama had tried and failed to secure a meeting with Kim.
“We have a different kind of relationship. We have a very good relationship, and there’s no war,” Trump said of himself and Kim.
Biden shot back: “We had a good relationship with Hitler before he, in fact, invaded the rest of Europe. The reason [Kim] wouldn’t meet with President Obama is because [Obama] said we’re going to talk about denuclearization.”
Biden said he would only consent to meet if Kim agreed to draw down his nuclear capacity, and that Biden would maintain pressure on China, which has leverage over the Kim regime.
“What has he done?” Biden said of Trump. “He’s legitimized North Korea, he’s talked about his good buddy, who’s a thug, a thug. And he talks about how we’re better off, and they have much more capable missiles, able to reach U.S. territory much more easily than ever before.”
The exchange occurred days after Kim rolled out a new ICMB during a nighttime parade in Pyongyang.
North Korea is continuing to produce nuclear material, according to a Congressional Research Service report. In addition, between May 2019 and late March 2020, North Korea conducted multiple short-range ballistic missile tests in violation of United Nations Security Council prohibitions.
Multiple diplomatic initiatives during both Democratic and Republican administrations have failed to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. Trump dared to be different, opting for in-person meetings with Kim in Singapore, Hanoi and the Demilitarized Zone.
But despite the summits and exchanges of what Trump called “love” letters, his administration has been unable to get traction on denuclearizing North Korea. The last known working group meeting was last October.
The coronavirus pandemic dominated the debate, and Trump said that the military would distribute an eventual vaccine, highlighting the role of Gen. Gustave Perna, the former head of U.S. Army Materiel Command, as chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed.
Asked about reports of Russia and Iran have sought to influence the U.S. election, Biden accused China as well and vowed to ensure any country interfering in the U.S. election would “pay a price, if I’m elected.”
When Biden questioned why Trump hadn’t confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump said nobody had been tougher on Russia than himself ― touting U.S. sales of Javelin anti-tank weapons and claiming credit misleadingly for an agreement by NATO members to increase spending on their own defense.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.