Kim Jong-un is 'smart cookie', warns Trump
US president admits he is unsure whether North Korea chief is insane
US President Donald Trump admits he has "no idea" if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is sane but claims he is a "smart cookie" for having survived the power struggle after his father's death.
Amid escalating tensions over the threat from the country's nuclear weapons programme, Mr Trump said: "He was a young man of 26 or 27 ... when his father died. He's dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others.
"And at a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie," Mr Trump said.
The comments came after North Korea launched a mid-range ballistic missile on Saturday, which broke up a few minutes after launch, the third test-fire that failed in April. The programme's repeated failures over the past few years have given rise to suspicions of US sabotage.
In a TV interview, Mr Trump was asked why North Korea's rockets keep blowing up.
"I'd rather not discuss it," Mr Trump said. "But perhaps they're just not very good missiles. But eventually he'll have good missiles."
North Korean ballistic missile tests are banned by the United Nations because they are seen as part of the North's push for a nuclear-tipped weapon that can hit the US mainland. North Korea's regional neighbours South Korea, China and Japan are also on high alert.
Elsewhere, Mr Trump's National Security Adviser Lt Gen HR McMaster said Mr Trump "has made clear that he is going to resolve this issue one way or the other," but that the president's preference was to work with China and others to resolve it without military action.
That means, Lt Gen McMaster said, working to enforce current UN sanctions and perhaps ratcheting them up.
"And it also means being prepared for military operations if necessary," he said.
The blitz of television coverage came after weeks of escalating tensions over the actions of North Korea, with the Trump administration never decisively saying that military action would be forthcoming.
When asked, Mr Trump said Mr Kim would eventually develop better missiles, and "we can't allow it to happen".
But, Mr Trump would not discuss the possibility of military action - saying "I don't know ... we'll see" when asked if another missile launch by North Korea would mean retaliation.
"It is a chess game. I just don't want people to know what my thinking is," he said.
Meanwhile, South Korea has contradicted Mr Trump's assertion that Seoul would pay for the $1bn (€916m) cost of deploying the anti-missile system in the capital to defend against North Korea.
Mr Trump insisted last week he wanted South Korea to pay for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile battery, which raised questions about his commitment to the two countries' alliance.
However, South Korea officials said they have now been told by Lt Gen McMaster that costs would be shared.
"He explained that the recent statements by President Trump were made in a general context, in line with the US public expectations on defence cost burden-sharing with allies," an official South Korea statement said.
Major elements of the advanced THAAD system were moved into the planned site in Seonjgu, in the south of the country, last week.
The deployment has drawn protests from China, which says the powerful radar, which can penetrate its territory, will undermine regional security, and from local residents worried they will be a target for North Korean missiles.