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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, April 1, 2016.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

U.S. President Barack Obama said Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner in the race to succeed him in the White House, lacks the basic knowledge needed to be president of the world's sole remaining superpower.

In a stinging put-down Friday suggesting the bombastic billionaire is unfit to be president, Mr. Obama said Mr. Trump's latest public statements urging Japan and South Korea get their own nuclear weapons show he "doesn't know much about foreign policy or nuclear policy or the Korean Peninsula or the world generally."

Mr. Obama said Americans, "don't want somebody in the Oval Office who doesn't recognize how important" it is not to up-end a half-century of U.S. nuclear deterrence which has been the core strategic policy of both Republican and Democratic presidents.

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Earlier this week, Mr. Trump sparked an outcry when he suggested that Japan and South Korea – both of which have defence treaties which essentially shelter them beneath the U.S. nuclear umbrella – should develop their own nuclear arsenals.

"You have so many countries already – China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia – you have so many countries right now that have them," Mr. Trump said referring to nuclear arsenals. "Wouldn't you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?"

When asked at a news conference ending a two-day, 50-plus nation summit seeking to secure nuclear materials and reduce proliferation, about Mr. Trump's willingness to reverse decades of U.S. foreign and nuclear policy, Mr. Obama didn't refer to the New York property magnate and sometime TV reality show star by name. But he made clear he was aiming his response at Mr. Trump. "What do the statements you mentioned tell us? They tell us that the person who made the statements doesn't know much, …" he said.

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