President Donald Trump praised Kim Jong Un repeatedly following their nuclear summit Tuesday, a sharp reversal from when he publicly eviscerated the North Korean regime for human rights abuses last year.
The U.S. president and North Korean dictator met in Singapore on Tuesday, signing a historic agreement committing to a process of "complete denuclearization." The statement excluded some key details about what denuclearization would mean or how it would be accomplished.
Trump pulled back from criticizing Kim as he did during a speech before the United Nations last year. The communist dictatorship has been condemned worldwide for the political prisons, assassinations and starvation in the country. The president's comments and face-to-face meeting with Kim have sparked criticism that he could legitimize or embolden North Korea's regime.
"I learned he's a very talented man. I also learned that he loves his country very much," the president said Tuesday when asked what he took away from meeting Kim. In a separate interview with ABC News, he said the North Korean people have a "great fervor" for Kim — something North Koreans often have to show or face punishment.
Pressed during a news conference about North Korea's brutal rule, including the killings of Kim's uncle and half-brother and the malnutrition of its people, Trump reiterated that he thinks the 34-year-old dictator is "talented."
"Well he is very talented. Anybody who takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it, and run it tough — I don't say 'he was nice' or I don't say anything about it," Trump said.
Trump further told Voice of America that Kim has been a "rough guy," but called the dictator a "smart" man who "loves his people." When pressed about how Kim could love his people based on his rule, Trump responded that "he's doing what he's seen done."
Trump also stressed that he believes he has "helped" the estimated 120,000 people in North Korean prison camps by starting the process of potentially normalizing relations with Pyongyang. Trump said there's "not much [the president] can do right now" about the prisons but he hopes Kim will address it "at a certain point."
Responding to another question about human rights abuses, Trump said "it's a rough situation over there." He added that "it's rough in a lot of places, by the way."
Trump's comments Tuesday were a far cry from his speech to the U.N. in September. During a speech in which he said, "Rocket Man" Kim "is on a suicide mission," he slammed the regime's practices.
"No one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the well-being of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea," Trump said at the time. "It is responsible for the starvation deaths of millions of North Koreans, and for the imprisonment, torture, killing and oppression of countless more."
In September, he also called out North Korea for "deadly abuse" of Otto Warmbier. The American student died last year shortly after returning to the U.S. from extended detention in North Korea.
Trump said Tuesday that Warmbier "did not die in vain" and "had a lot to do with us being here today."