Categorized | North Korea, slider, South Korea

U.S. Presidential Candidates Comments on the Korean Peninsula

This year will see the election of a new U.S. president. As the primary season for both political parties begins to heat up with the Iowa Caucuses approaching, KEI has gathered comments by contenders for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations on North and South Korea.

Republican Candidates

Jeb Bush

  • February 18, 2015 – “America again needs to lead and we can’t do it alone we need to strengthen NATO. Our relationship with Asian and Pacific allies like Japan and Korea and Australia as well as the Asian countries…”Bush
  • January 6, 2016 – If they (North Korea) have long-range missile capability to deliver, that is a direct threat to the U.S. and there is nothing more to say about it. However we need to make sure it’s been confirmed.
  • January 6, 2016 – “It’s an example of a withdrawn America in the world. We need to be serious if we’re going to deal with these challenges.” Further, said Bush, the United States needs to “challenge China to deal with its client state,” and re-impose sanctions “across the board if it’s been confirmed they are violating sanctions and testing a hydrogen bomb.” He said that “…this is a huge danger. If they have the long range missile capability to deliver that weapon,that is a direct threat to the United States.”
  • January 6, 2016 – North Korean nuke test   shows danger of continuing feckless Obama/Clinton foreign policy.
  • January 21, 2016 – “You want to keep the peace, you need to rebuild the military,” Bush said during his speech, insisting that occupational forces worldwide is not war-mongering, but rather lifts countries with U.S forces in them up. Bush used the example of South Korea, saying that in 1950, it was the poorest country on the planet. Today, it is a first-world country with the highest literacy rate on the globe, he said.
  • January 23, 2016 – Jeb Bush pointed to reports last week of an alleged hydrogen bomb test in North Korea. Bush said he would keep all options open for dealing with North Korea, but stopped short of calling for a pre-emptive strike against it. However, he said he would consider reinstating sanctions on North Korea that were lifted under his brother’s presidency. “With North Korea, we should make sure they understand this rogue status that they seek won’t yield a good result. It will be an ugly result for the regime,” he said. “If people believe we’re serious about engagement, and they know we’ll use that kind of force, it will deter the kind of aggression that requires it.”

Ben Carson

  • CarsonDecember 30, 2014 -. “It was extremely encouraging to see the United States and Sony eventually stand up to the cyberbullying of the North Koreans by allowing the movie ‘The Interview’ to be released in theaters around the country despite threats of retaliation.”
  • August 23rd, 2015 – “I think it highlights the necessity of us taking a very strong stance for our allies.  South Korea is our ally.  There should be no doubt about that in anybody’s mind, including North Korea, that we will stand with our allies, no matter what is going on.”
  • December 15, 2015 – “Well, I definitely believe that he is unstable, and I do, in fact, believe that China has a lot more influence with him than we do. But we also recognize that North Korea is in severe financial straits, and they have decided to use their resources to build their military, rather than to feed their people and to take care of the various humanitarian responsibilities that they have.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “In order to keep [Jong-Un] under control I think we need to work with China.”

Chris Christie

  • ChristieJanuary 6, 2016 – “Three out of the four nuclear detonations that the North Koreans have done have happened under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s watch. They have just not acted strongly at all around the world. This is just another example — piled on top of Iran, on top of Syria, on top of Crimea and Ukraine. This is what weak American leadership gets you.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “The fact is that we’ve allowed North Korea, while the President’s been playing footsie with the Iranians, we’ve allowed the North Koreans to get further and further down the nuclear road.”
  • January 14, 2016 – The first thing is we have to strengthen our alliances around the world. And the best way to do that is to start talking to our allies again and having them be able to count on our word.

Ted Cruz

  • CruzJanuary 6, 2016 -“When we look at North Korea, it’s like looking at a crystal ball. This is where Iran ends up, if we continue on this same misguided path. It’s worth remembering, we’re here because of the Clinton Administration. The Clinton administration led the world in relaxing sanctions against North Korea. They used the billions of dollars that flowed into North Korea to develop nuclear weapons. Now we’re facing a megalomaniac who may potentially have a hydrogen bomb.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “North Korea has a nuclear weapon because of the Clintons,” Cruz said in Rock Rapids, Michigan. “The Clinton Obama Clinton foreign policy…consistently makes the same mistakes over and over again.”
  • January 6, 2016 – We ought to be working with regional allies. We ought to be working with Japan, with South Korea, we ought to be working with Taiwan, and we ought to be working with China to continue to isolate North Korea, to continue to cut off North Korea. To continue to raise the cost of their belligerence… the most important tool I believe now is getting China to cut off their client state.

Carly Fiorina

  • FiorinaJanuary 6, 2016-“Of course North Korea would conduct a nuclear test after watching Iran willfully violate an agreement they just made without consequence of any kind from this administration. North Korea is yet another Hillary Clinton foreign policy failure. America cannot lead from behind.”
  • December 15, 2015 – “Well, first, Kim Jong-Un is a dangerous leader, without a doubt. And both Republican and Democrat administrations have been completely ineffective in dealing with him. So we must continue to isolate him. We will need China as part of that strategy…We cannot let them control the disputed islands, and we must work with the Australians, the South Koreans, the Japanese and the Filipinos to contain China. And then we must ask for their support and their help with North Korea. Because believe it or not, China is as concerned about Kim Jong-Un as we are.”

Jim Gilmore

  • GilmoreJanuary 12, 2016 – “North Korea’s claimed detonation of a hydrogen bomb dramatically underlines how dangerous our world has become and demonstrates how badly our nation needs strong, steady presidential leadership.” “What we have is a very dangerous provocation by North Korea that increases the threat to South Korea, Japan, America and the rest of the world,” Gilmore said.  “This North Korean escalation at a time when instability and terrorism are increasing in many places in the world shows very clearly the importance of electing a new President of the United States who will provide the responsible leadership necessary to keep Americans safe.”
  • January 12, 2016 – “This isn’t something that can lightly be explained away or ignored as the Obama Administration tends to do and it isn’t something that calls for the trademark shoot-from-the-hip bluster of some of the candidates for president,” Gilmore said.  “What we need in this country is rock solid, forceful leadership that can guide our nation to a safe prosperous future.”

John Kasich

  • KasichJanuary 6, 2016 – “Here’s the situation, this problem has been brewing for multiple presidencies, and we have been kicking the can down the road,” Kasich said. Kasich is advocating for more collaboration with China to halt North Korea’s nuclear efforts, but admitted there’s no easy answer on North Korea. “Anybody that says they have a great answer on North Korea, I’m all ears,” he told reporters. “I mean, just bellicose language is not going to get it done.” Kasich noted that while China isn’t always a reliable ally, they can’t be an enemy when it comes to stopping North Korea. He said the Chinese have some of the “greatest leverage over this crazy guy in North Korea,” referring to the nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un. He’s also calling for stronger ballistic missile defense programs in Asia. Beyond North Korea enhancing its own nuclear capabilities, Kasich said it’s worrisome to think of nuclear materials falling into the hands of non-state actors, such as the Islamic State.
  • January 7, 2016 – “If they’re on the sea, we’ve got to stop the ships.” “Oh yeah, well, they’re supposed to have been doing this. I don’t know how robust it is. You stop them, right on the sea,” Kasich answered. “If we suspect they are flying things out, then we’re going to have to intercept aircraft. We just don’t have any choice on this. The easiest way to deal with this is on the sea. The easiest way to intercept is on the sea. And we were supposed to be doing it.”
  • December 9, 2015 – To deal with the ever present conventional and nuclear threats posed by North Korea, I would work with the Republic of Korea, Japan and our other regional allies to revitalize joint allied counter-proliferation activities and to build ballistic missile defenses.

Rand Paul

  • PaulOctober 15, 2013 – “North Korea sits atop a stockpile of weapons in close proximity to tens of thousands of US troops. If Pyongyang ever used these weapons against our troops, they would see a massive response from the US. The American people would be united, and Congress would declare war in a heartbeat. For anyone to think otherwise — be they a hawkish American pundit or a North Korean despot — is crazy.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “What I’m saying is there are no easy solutions. What I’m pointing out is that it is so important that we understand what went wrong with the negotiations and maybe there was too much leeway in the negotiations,” Paul said on CNN. “Some of the same people who negotiated the North Korea agreement are the same people who have recently negotiated the Iran agreement and this is one reason I objected to the Iran agreement because I don’t want to get to a situation where we are with North Korea where your options are somewhat limited.”

Marco Rubio

  • RubioApril 2, 2013 – “We must remember that our concerns with North Korea extend well beyond the country’s nuclear program…The real solution to this challenge will come only once all concerned parties realize that this odious regime is the problem and join the United States in pressuring China to change its policy of supporting Pyongyang…I also call on the Obama administration to relist North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
  • December 21, 2014 – Look, the North Koreans, it’s not even a government. It’s a criminal syndicate that controls territory and need to be treated as such. Now, unfortunately, they possess nuclear weapons and are led by an irrational leader. North Korea is going to be a growing problem for the foreseeable future. You have a person running that country that is mentally unstable, but also someone that is fully capable of overestimating his own strength and ends up miscalculating and creating a real catastrophe, not just vis-a-vis South Korea, but also Japan and the United States. This is a very serious threat. It’s not just a cyber-threat. I think North Korea has the potential to become a source of huge instability.
  • September 16, 2015 – “There is a lunatic in North Korea with dozens of nuclear weapons and long-range rocket that can already hit the very place in which we stand tonight. The Chinese are rapidly expanding their military. They hack into our computers. They’re building artificial islands in the South China Sea, the most important shipping lane in the world.”
  • September 16, 2015 – If I’m honored with the opportunity to be president, I hope that our Air Force One will fly, first and foremost, to our allies; in Israel, in South Korea, and Japan. They know we stand with them. That America can be counted on.”
  • October 15, 2015 – “As we work to deter North Korea’s threat, I also applaud President Park’s vision for the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula under democratic rule. We should work closely with South Korea to realize this noble objective,” Rubio said in a statement marking Park’s visit to Washington. “A reunified, democratic Korea would provide all Koreans with the peace, prosperity, and freedom they seek,” the Florida senator said.
  • January 6, 2016 – “I have been warning throughout this campaign that North Korea is run by a lunatic who has been expanding his nuclear arsenal while President Obama has stood idly by,” Rubio said. “Our enemies around the world are taking advantage of Obama’s weakness. We need new leadership that will stand up to people like Kim Jong Un and ensure our country has the capabilities necessary to keep America safe.”


Rick Santorum

  • October 25, 2011 – “And now they (North Korea) are in the process of developing nuclear weapons and it appears obvious to me that the administration is doing little to none…”

Donald Trump

  • July 23, 2015 – “How long will we go on defending South Korea from North Korea without payment?…“When will they start to pay us?”
  • August 23, 2015 – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is either “mad” or a “genius” on a US radio show. Mr. Trump was speaking about the US Government’s commitment to aid South Korea if the neighboring Korean countries enter another full-blown war as talks continue. “You know it’s heating up again,” Mr Trump told presenter Mick Murphy. “So, we send our ships. I think South Korea’s great. I think it’s wonderful. I just order 4,000 television sets for a job that I’m doing, right? And guess what? Between Samsung, and LG, and Sharp, they all come from South Korea.” The presidential candidate questioned why America is not receiving compeTrumpnsation for protecting South Korea from attack. “They’re making a fortune. So, we send our troops, we’re getting ready to go in there and defend them. And we get nothing! It’s like crazy. We get nothing. Why are we getting nothing? Why aren’t they helping us, okay? We help them,” he said.
  • September 16, 2015 – “And nobody ever mentions North Korea where you have this maniac sitting there and he actually has nuclear weapons and somebody better start thinking about North Korea and perhaps a couple of other places. But certainly North Korea. And Ted and I have spoken. We’ve — a lot of us have spoken. We’re talking about Iran. They are bad actors, bad things are going to happen. But in the meantime, you have somebody right now in North Korea who has got nuclear weapons and who is saying almost every other week, I’m ready to use them. And we don’t even mention it.”
  • October 10, 2015 – The price Seoul pays for the upkeep of American troops is “peanuts” compared with what the US spends, US Republican candidate Donald Trump was quoted by South Korean media as saying. He made the comments during his campaign speech in New Hampshire on Monday. “It’s peanuts compared to what it’s costing. It’s peanuts,” Trump said.
  • November 10, 2015 – We worry about Iranian nukes but why not North Korean nukes? It’s not only Russia [that we’re having trouble with]. We have problems with North Korea where they actually have nuclear weapons. You know, nobody talks about it, we talk about Iran, and that’s one of the worst deals ever made. One of the worst contracts ever signed, ever, in anything, and it’s a disgrace. But, we have somebody over there, a madman, who already has nuclear weapons we don’t talk about that.
  • January 6, 2016 –“China has total control, believe me, they say they don’t, they have total control over North Korea, and China should solve that problem, and if they don’t solve the problem, we should make trade very difficult with China. Because we are, believe it, we are holding China up. They’re taking so much money. They’re training our country, and they’re toying with us with North Korea. So, North Korea is totally under the control, without China, they wouldn’t eat.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “I’d get South Korea — that’s making a fortune, they’re our trading partner, if you want to use the word ‘partner,’ “We get almost nothing for what we do. We defend the world. We defend so many countries. We get nothing. They get everything. We get nothing. South Korea’s going to have to start ponying up, OK? And we’ll do it in a very nice manner. They’ll like us even more than they like us now.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “It’s something I’ve been talking about for a long time. You have this madman over there who probably would use it,” Trump said during an interview on “Fox & Friends.” “And nobody talks to him, other than of course Dennis Rodman,” he said. “That’s about it.”
  • January 10, 2016 – “I mean, you’ve got this mad man (Kim Jong-un) playing around with the nukes and it has got to end. He’s certainly — he could be a total nut job, frankly.”
  • January 10, 2016 – ‘If you look at North Korea, this guy, I mean, he’s like a maniac, OK? You’ve got to give him credit. How many young guys – he was like 25 or 26 when his father died – take over these tough generals. How does he do that?’

Democratic Candidates

Hillary Clinton


  • January 6, 2016 – “I strongly condemn North Korea’s apparent nuclear test. If verified, this is a provocative and dangerous act, and North Korea must have no doubt that we will take whatever steps are necessary to defend ourselves and our treaty allies, South Korea and Japan. Threats like this are yet another reminder of what’s at stake in this election. We cannot afford reckless, imprudent publicity stunts that risk war. We need a Commander-in-Chief with the experience and judgement to deal with a dangerous North Korea on Day One”
  • January 6, 2016 – If verified, this is a provocative and dangerous act, and North Korea must have no doubt that we will take whatever steps are necessary to defend ourselves and our treaty allies, South Korea and Japan,” Clinton said. “North Korea’s goal is to blackmail the world into easing the pressure on its rogue regime.”

Bernie SandersSanders

  • October 12, 2011 – “Workers in North Korea are the most brutalized in the world, have virtually no democratic rights, and are at the mercy of the most vicious dictator in the world.”
  • January 6, 2016 –“We’ll have to lean on China,” Sanders said of the U.S. strategy on Good Morning America. “China is North Korea’s closest ally. They’ll have to push North Korea to start adhering to international agreements. … When you have a hydrogen bomb, if that’s true, you are a threat to China, as well.”

Martin O’MalleyOmalley

  • April 20, 2015 – “I’m not opposed to free trade if it’s fair trade. But I am opposed to bad trade deals. I have supported some trade deals in the past myself. I’ve supported the Korean trade deal. And that one had protections for workers, protections for wages, protections for the environment and it was entered into with the people of South Korea who are our friends and are very much a stable democracy in this world that understands a stronger middle class is a universal cause.”

Quotes collected with the help of Thomas Lee, Intern, Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the candidates’ alone.

Main photo from Nicolas Karim’s photostream & all candidate photos from Gage Skidmore’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons

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One Response to “U.S. Presidential Candidates Comments on the Korean Peninsula”


  1. […] stance is by all accounts driven by President Donald Trump himself. Throughout the presidential campaign he consistently criticized South Korea’s financial contributions to the alliance, once claiming it was “peanuts compared to what the U.S. spends.” This same attitude has […]

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