President Donald Trump said on Monday he would be "honored" to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
"If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would, absolutely. I would be honored to do it," Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg on Monday. "Most political people would never say that, but I'm telling you, under the right circumstances, I would meet with him."
Trump continues to praise Kim as North Korea's nuclear provocations increase international tensions in the Asia-Pacific region. In an interview with CBS that aired on Sunday, Trump called the North Korean leader a "pretty smart cookie."
The president has also admired other strongmen, most notably Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last month, Trump congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on winning a referendum that consolidated his authority and may have been undemocratic. Over the weekend, the White House extended an invitation to Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, who personally admitted to murder and whose regime has been accused of numerous human rights abuses.
"Does the president have a thing with these totalitarian leaders? Does he admire something about the way these guys conduct themselves?" New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday.
Spicer defended Trump's most recent statement by emphasizing that a meeting with the North Korean leader would only occur under certain conditions.
"'Under the right circumstances' was the phrase I believe he used," Spicer said during Monday's White House press briefing. "We'd have to see their provocative behavior ratchet down immediately. There's a lot of conditions that would have to happen with respect to its behavior, and to show signs of good faith. Clearly the conditions are not there right now."
"The president clearly understands the threat that North Korea poses," Spicer later said.
On Sunday, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus defended Trump's invitation to Duterte by citing the need to find regional allies.
"The issues facing us, developing out of North Korea, are so serious that we need a cooperation at some level from as many partners in the area as possible," Priebus said.