By David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Former U.S. President Donald Trump has told associates he has remained in contact with North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Un since leaving the White House, according to a report on Thursday amid raised tensions over recent North Korean missile tests.
“As we know, he had a fixation on this relationship,” New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman told CNN. The revelation is contained in her upcoming book on Trump, “The Confidence Man.”
Trump famously declared in 2018 that he and Kim “fell in love” after exchanging letters, but three meetings with the North Korean leader failed to persuade him to give up his nuclear bombs and missiles.
Trump’s claims could not be verified and may not be true, Haberman said.
“What he says and what’s actually happening are not always in concert, but he has been telling people that he has maintained some kind of a correspondence or discussion with Kim Jong Un,” she said.
It is the only foreign leader Trump has said he remains in contact with, she added.
The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the report and when asked if it was aware of such contact and the White House did not immediately respond. A representative for Trump also did not return a request for comment.
The 1799 Logan Act bars private U.S. citizens from negotiating with foreign governments without authorization.
Jenny Town, director the Washington-based North Korea project 38 North, said Trump had been known to exaggerate and any messages he had sent might only have been greetings and might not have been reciprocated.
“But if it’s true, and there is communication taking place on anything of substance without coordination or consultation with the White House, it could be highly problematic and potentially counterproductive to U.S. interests,” she said.
President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly urged a return to dialogue with North Korea, but has avoided pushing for summit diplomacy, favoring detailed lower-level engagement first, an approach that has been rebuffed.
Biden called Kim a “thug” during his 2020 presidential campaign, but has said he would be willing to meet him under the right conditions – if he agreed to discuss his nuclear program and that their advisers met first to lay the groundwork.
Despite Trump’s direct personal engagement with Kim, U.S.-North Korea relations grew frosty after the breakdown of their 2019 summit in Hanoi and Pyongyang said it would not engage further unless Washington dropped hostile policies.
The Washington Post reported that correspondences with Kim were among the presidential records in 15 boxes the National Archives said it retrieved last month from Trump’s Florida residence.
North Korea’s recent missiles tests, including its first of an intermediate range ballistic missile since 2017, have raised fears it may be preparing for a return to tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs, which it has not conducted since that year.
North Korea boasted on Tuesday it is one of only a handful of countries to field nuclear weapons and advanced missiles and the only one standing up to the United States by “shaking the world” with missile tests.