Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson ruled out on Friday opening any negotiation with North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programs and said for the first time that the Trump administration might be forced to take pre-emptive action “if they elevate the threat of their weapons program” to an unacceptable level.
Mr. Tillerson’s comments in Seoul, a day before he travels to Beijing to meet Chinese leaders, explicitly rejected any return to the bargaining table in an effort to buy time by halting North Korea’s accelerating testing program. The country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said on New Year’s Day that North Korea was in the “final stage” of preparation for the first launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States.
The secretary of state’s comments were the Trump administration’s first public hint at the options being considered, and they made clear that none involved a negotiated settlement or waiting for the North Korean government to collapse.
Negotiations “can only be achieved by denuclearizing, giving up their weapons of mass destruction,” he said — a step to which the North committed in 1992, and again in subsequent accords, but has always violated. “Only then will we be prepared to engage them in talks.”
His warning on Friday about new ways to pressure the North was far more specific and martial sounding than during the first stop of his three-country tour, in Tokyo on Thursday. His inconsistency of tone may have been intended to signal a tougher line to the Chinese before he lands in Beijing on Saturday. It could also reflect an effort by Mr. Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, to issue the right diplomatic signals in a region where American commitment is in doubt.
Ruling out any negotiations before the DPRK stopped their nuclear weapons development program was a non-starter, because Kim Jung Un sees these weapons as a deterrent against Western aggression; Tillerson had to know that.
I also noticed that there were no real public statements from Tillerson after he met with South Korean dignitaries; I have to wonder if Tillerson actually got what he came for, which I believe, would have been the proverbial "blank check" for permission for an overt attack against North Korea.
I will be very interested to see what Tillerson's and Chinese officials' comments will be after the meeting in Beijing.