NEW YORK – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday appeared to backtrack on comments he made earlier this week that appeared to contradict President Trump’s position on how to negotiate with North Korea.
“The President’s policy on North Korea is quite clear, and there is no daylight at all between the president’s policy and the pursuit of that policy. And the president, I think, has been very clear that we are going to lead this pressure campaign, we’re going to unite the international community, and we’re going to keep the pressure as much as we can and increase it where possible,” he said following a United Nations Security Council meeting.
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, Tillerson said he would be open to speaking to North Korea about anything. The White House immediately responded by saying any talks with the Hermit Kingdom would be pointless.
But on Friday, Tillerson, sitting just a few feet away from North Korea’s UN ambassador, was more forceful. He said the U.S was taking the lead in an international campaign to keep the pressure on the North Koreans and in doing so would “unite the international community.”
"North Korea must earn its way back to the table," Tillerson told the foreign ministers. "The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved. We will in the meantime keep our channels of communication open."
Tillerson noted that the President had called Chinese President Xi and asked him to cut off oil supplies to North Korea.
“That is intended to lead to diplomatic talks,” he said. “In the meantime, the president has been very clear: Militarily, we are going to be prepared should something go wrong. And our military is prepared.”
The remarks came as North Korea’s UN ambassador blasted Tillerson and said his country was becoming the world’s “most powerful nuclear and military state.”
In a bizarre speech at the U.N. Security Council meeting, Ja Song Nam, the North Korea ambassador, called his country’s ballistic missile launch last month the “great November event.” He called his country a “responsible nuclear power and peace-loving state.”
Ja called the UN meeting “none other than a desperate measure plotted by the U.S. being terrified by the incredible might of our Republic.”
During the UN meeting, Tillerson said the U.S. remained hopeful that a diplomatic resolution could be reached.
Still, he said the threat is still “the United States’ greatest national security threat.”
“North Korea’s growing capabilities reflect a direct threat to our security and the security of the entire world,” Tillerson said. “We do not regard this claim as an empty threat.”
Tillerson urged countries that have not yet taken action to understand the seriousness of the “grave threat,” saying “more can and must be done beyond enforcing the minimum requirements of Security Council Resolutions directed at the DRPK.”
The Security Council meeting was sponsored by Japan, this month’s Security Council president, and was chaired by the country’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, who warned the council of North Korea’s “outrageous acts of provocation,” against Security Council resolutions, leading one UN observer to say “they’ve had enough of the situation.”
Includes reporting by The Associated Press.