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Trump calls North Korea's Kim Jong Un 'a pretty smart cookie'

On Sunday's Face the Nation, President Trump told John Dickerson that he "would not be happy" if North Korea tested another nuclear weapon, but declined to say what he would do. In the interview, taped on Saturday, Dickerson asked Trump what he makes of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. Trump appeared to be sympathetic, as he had been in a Reuters interview last week. "I really, you know, have no comment on him," he said, continuing:

"I can tell you this, and a lot of people don't like when I say it, but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, 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. [Trump, to CBS News]

Some observers — noting that Kim "was able to do it" by regularly purging his government and family of perceived threats, including his uncle and half-brother — viewed that assessment of Kim as of a piece with Trump's evident admiration for authoritarian leaders, citing his warm words for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, among others, plus his verbal attacks on perceived domestic critics like the media, the courts, and the "archaic" rules of Congress.

Dickerson had a different theory on Sunday. "You can imagine that what the president is trying to do is send a little message there, make a little connection with the North Korean leader as a way of de-escalating," he said. "If there is going to be de-escalation, it is going to require a certain saving-of-face for the North Korean leader, and the respect that the president's comments displayed there could be a part of creating an off-ramp to get away from the tensions what we're seeing now." Watch below. Peter Weber