There is no conflict between President Donald Trump’s tweets on the frivolity of speaking diplomatically with the North Korean regime, and the U.S. diplomatic mission to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, according to Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Mattis clarified the Trump administration’s diplomatic stance on North Korea during an Oct. 3 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said while the Department of Defense is prepared to defend the United States and its allies if needed, it also “supports fully” efforts of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to “find a diplomatic solution.”
Last month Mattis said that while the U.S. does not seek to attack North Korea it has options for the “total annihilation” of the country. He also said that he had briefed the president on all military options.
On Wednesday Oct. 1, North Korean state media threatened the U.S. with a “miserable extinction” over sanctions that the U.N. imposed on the regime last month. The North Korean regime frequently calls for the destruction of America and its allies using nuclear weapons.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) pressed Mattis on whether his claims of a diplomatic mission contradicted Oct. 1 statements from Trump, who stated on Twitter that he told Tillerson “that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and to “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
…Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
Mattis answered his question, explaining it was a misinterpretation. He said there is no conflict between the U.S. diplomatic mission on North Korea, and Trump telling Tillerson to avoid direct diplomatic engagement with North Korea.
The simple reason is that the U.S. diplomatic mission is not trying to engage directly with North Korea.
Instead, Mattis said, the U.S. diplomatic mission is going through the United Nations to pressure North Korea with sanctions, to engage with China—which has direct diplomatic channels to North Korea—to also pressure the regime, and to “probe” for opportunities that would make engagement with North Korea worthwhile.
“President Trump’s guidance to both Secretary Tillerson and me has been very clearly that we would pursue the diplomatic effort to include with the various initiatives with China, and to ensure that we pushed on sanctions—economic sanctions—designed to keep this within a diplomatic framework for moving forward,” he said.
He noted that the United Nations Security Council recently unanimously approved two batches of sanctions against North Korea—sanctions that Tillerson says are working.
Mattis noted the diplomatic strategy is “focused on the destabilizing threat posed by North Korea and Kim Jong Un’s relentless pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.”
When it comes to Tillerson looking for ways to directly engage with North Korea, Mattis said, “what we’re doing is probing—we’re not talking with them—consistent with the President’s dismay about not talking with them before the time is right, before they’re willing to talk.”
Mattis also noted that Trump does not want to jump directly into negotiations with North Korea, since diplomatic actions of this type—including under former presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama—have failed in the past. Whether the administration was Republican or Democrat, he explained, North Korea inevitably did not abide by their diplomatic agreements.
The issue of Trump’s tweets on avoiding direct diplomatic engagement with North Korea had also been raised during the White House press briefing on Oct. 2
Similar to what Mattis said about the strategy on North Korea, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said “we’ve been clear that now is not the time to talk.”
Sanders said there is a difference between speaking diplomatically with North Korea and using diplomacy to pressure the regime. “We still strongly support putting diplomatic pressure on North Korea, which we’re continuing to do,” she said. “But now is not the time simply to have conversations with North Korea.”