The one top U.S. official we expected to see in the hours and days following North Korea’s most recent, and most powerful, nuclear test is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But he’s been absent from the scene.
Where did he go? The State Department said Tillerson traveled to Texas over the weekend in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, but that he did participate remotely in a National Security Council meeting [confirmed by State Dept. spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a tweet, here]. In his stead, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has stepped up, taking the lead in commenting on the U.S. position after the test, saying most notably that North Korea appeared to be “begging for war.” She added that while the U.S. did not want that, Washington’s “patience was limited.”
Haley’s high profile on pressing international issues, including Iran and North Korea, raised fresh questions about the influence and political future of the secretary of state. Tillerson has been strangely absent from the public spotlight, even amid mounting tensions with North Korea, and Haley has stepped in to fill the void.
“It is oddly conspicuous that the secretary of state has not been saying anything publicly about the latest events,” said Michael Fuchs, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Barack Obama administration.
With the world watching for Washington’s response to North Korea’s nuclear test, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to reporters in front of the White House on Sunday after taking part in a meeting of Trump’s national security team. But Tillerson was not in sight of the cameras.
Source: Foreign Policy
Why it’s on our radar: The absence of Tillerson front and center following such a momentous foreign policy and geopolitical development, to be replaced by President Trump’s generals, suggests the commander-in-chief may be leaning more toward a military rather than a diplomatic solution in North Korea. That perception is bolstered among foreign policy observers by the fact that Trump has yet to fill a number of senior State Department positions.
Indeed, in a phone conversation with British Prime Minister Teresa May, Trump said “now is not the time to talk” to North Korea.