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AP-NORC Poll: Majority approve of Trump’s North Korea effort

In this Tuesday, June 12, 2018 photo, U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island in Singapore. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
In this Tuesday, June 12, 2018 photo, U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island in Singapore. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
By Emily Swanson and Catherine Lucey Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A majority of Americans now approve of President Donald Trump’s handling of U.S. relations with North Korea, a change that comes after his historic summit with that country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. But most don’t believe Kim is serious about addressing the international concerns about his country’s nuclear weapons program.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released Thursday finds that 55 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s diplomacy with North Korea, up from 42 percent in March and 34 percent last October. It’s the highest rating for the Republican president on any individual issue on an AP-NORC poll since his inauguration.

The survey was conducted immediately after Trump concluded a one-day meeting with Kim, the first between a U.S. and North Korean leader in six decades of hostility, at which they agreed North Korea would work toward denuclearization in exchange for U.S. security guarantees.

The positive feelings about the summit among Americans don’t appear to have made a dent in Trump’s overall approval rating, which stands at just 41 percent and has not significantly changed since March. As the poll was being conducted, Trump was embroiled in controversy over his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents after border agents catch the families crossing into the U.S. illegally.

Yet even people unhappy with Trump overall are willing to admire his efforts at detente with North Korea. Last September, Trump taunted Kim as “Rocket Man” in a speech at the United Nations, during which he vowed to “totally destroy North Korea” if the U.S. was forced to defend itself or its allies. Last week, after meeting with Kim, he tweeted, “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

“I hate to give Donald Trump any credit, but the fact is he was able to sit down with the man and possibly get the volume of that threat turned down significantly,” said Susan Leo, 66, a retired minister from Santa Cruz, California, who supported Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Still, she added, when she considers the big picture, Trump’s presidency is “a nightmare. There’s absolutely no integrity in his life and in his presidency overall.”

Leo isn’t alone in having such split views of the president. While only 9 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of independents approve of how Trump’s performance as president overall, 31 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents approve of his work with North Korea.

Americans also have mixed feelings about Trump’s announcement that he would end military exercises with South Korea while negotiations with North Korea are ongoing, with about 3 in 10 in favor and 3 in 10 opposed.

Even as they broadly give Trump solid reviews for the summit, Americans remain skeptical about what sort of deal he may ultimately reach with a country controlled by what he once called a “depraved regime.” Trump’s critics have responded to his confidence in the agreement struck with Kim at the summit with reminders that North Korea has never signed such a deal that it didn’t later break.

A majority of Americans – 52 percent – have little to no confidence that negotiations with Kim will lead to North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons, while just 12 percent are very or extremely confident. Fifty-five percent think North Korea isn’t serious about addressing international concerns about its nuclear weapons program.

Roger D’Aquin, a retired security manager from New Orleans who voted for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in 2016, said that he thought Trump’s tactics with Kim worked, but added, “I have no confidence that Kim wants to cooperate and wants to get rid of his nukes.”

“Overall Trump handled that well,” said D’Aquin, 50, who said he was happy Trump won the election and that he gave him a “C” for the job so far.

Even among Republicans, just 25 percent say they’re very confident that North Korea will eventually agree to a deal to give up its nuclear weapons. A large majority of Democrats have little confidence the Kim regime will ever do so.

Trump’s meeting with Kim came on the heels of his combative G-7 meeting with traditional U.S. allies, including Canada and the United Kingdom. After departing that gathering in Quebec, Trump attacked Justin Trudeau as “dishonest” and “weak” after the Canadian prime minister told reporters his government would retaliate against new U.S. tariffs it viewed as unfair.

Only 43 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of relationships with U.S. allies or of his handling of trade negotiations with other countries, a figure that’s similar to his overall approval rating. Just 23 percent of Americans say they’re very or extremely confident in his ability to handle complex foreign policy situations, while 53 percent are not very or not at all confident.

Asked about Trump’s potential options at the negotiating table in future talks with North Korea, more Americans say they’d oppose than favor withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea (41 percent to 29 percent) and giving economic aid to North Korea (47 percent to 24 percent) in exchange for Kim surrendering his country’s nuclear weapons.

More Americans favor than oppose ending sanctions designed to limit North Korea’s economy (37 percent to 27 percent), and a large majority – 69 percent – say they’d favor a treaty marking an official end to the Korean War. There’s even some support for inviting Kim to the White House, with 39 percent of Americans open to an idea that 25 percent oppose.

Kim Oldfield, 67, of Culverville, California, a registered Independent who voted for Trump, said she was fine Kim coming to Washington as part of a nuclear deal.

“Sure, why not,” she said. “There’s a first time for everything.”

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