President Trump told his staff to portray him as "crazy" to get him out of a free-trade negotiation with South Korea, Axios reported Sunday.
Trump requested the negotiating tactic during a September meeting in the Oval Office with his top trade adviser, Robert Lighthizer, and other White House officials. The subject of the meeting was whether to withdraw from the Korean trade deal, which Trump has threatened to do but has yet to follow through on.
Axios reports the exchange went like this:
"You've got 30 days, and if you don't get concessions then I'm pulling out," Trump told Lighthizer.
"Ok, well I'll tell the Koreans they've got 30 days," Lighthizer replied.
"No, no, no," Trump interjected. "That's not how you negotiate. You don't tell them they've got 30 days. You tell them, 'This guy's so crazy he could pull out any minute.'"
"That's what you tell them: Any minute," Trump continued. "And by the way, I might. You guys all need to know I might. You don't tell them 30 days. If they take 30 days they'll stretch this out."
Several senior officials and cabinet secretaries witnessed the conversation, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
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Trump has unnerved allies and advisers with his volatility on the international stage, particularly over North Korea's nuclear program. In August, he said that if the country didn't dial back its nuclear ambitions, it "will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." In his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month, he called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man."
The story follows Trump's Sunday-morning tweetstorm in which he undercut Tillerson's assertions that the U.S. is negotiating through backchannels with North Korea about its nuclear program. "I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…," he tweeted. "...Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!"
...Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017