Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is wrapping up a two-day summit in Vancouver, Canada, and gave a clear assessment — and warning — regarding a future nuclear-armed North Korea.
“Never” was the term he used.
“We will never accept them as a nuclear power. And so it’s time to talk,” he said during a news conference with his Canadian counterpart, Chrystia Freeland. In warning that the situation had reached “a very tenuous stage,” Tillerson nevertheless said the preferred option in settling the nuclear impasse is via diplomacy.
“We have to recognize that that threat is growing,” Tillerson said. “And if North Korea is not — does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option.”
He also rejected out of hand any notion that the U.S. will offer to freeze military exercises with South Korea if Pyongyang agrees to freeze its nuclear program — which it has done before, only to cheat behind the scenes.
“Let me be clear: We will not allow North Korea to drive a wedge through our resolve or our solidarity. We reject a ‘freeze-for-freeze’ approach in which legitimate defensive military exercises are placed on the same level of equivalency as the DPRK’s unlawful actions,” Tillerson said. He insisted the U.S.-led pressure campaign “will continue until North Korea takes decisive steps to denuclearize. This is a strategy that has and will require patience.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, who was traveling with Tillerson, added: “I gave them basically, the military situation and the military options, then they go to work, trying to solve this diplomatically.”
(Analyst comment: Nothing we’ve seen thus far indicates the Trump administration is backing away from its pledge to deny North Korea a nuclear capability, and given recent movements of bombers, ships, fighter planes and ordnance to the Asia-Pacific region — coupled with Tillerson’s very plain words — we still don’t see any change in policy.)