[Strategic Intel] Tillerson slip: U.S., China have discussed securing North Korean nukes

During an Atlantic Council meeting last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson let it slip that the U.S. and China had discussed obtaining and deactivating North Korea’s nuclear weapons should the regime collapse.

Speaking from notes, Tillerson said Beijing and Washington “have had conversations about in the event that something happened — it could happen internal to North Korea; it might be nothing that we from the outside initiate — that if that unleashed some kind of instability, the most important thing to us would be securing those nuclear weapons they’ve already developed and ensuring that they — that nothing falls into the hands of people we would not want to have it.”

That’s significant because in the past the Chinese have resolutely refused to have such discussions, largely because if word of such talks leaked, Beijing feared it would lose whatever remaining influence it has with Pyongyang.

American and South Korean forces have been practicing this for years; Washington sought talks with Beijing over just such an operation so as to avoid any conflict between U.S. special forces operators sent in to deactivate the weapons and Chinese forces, which would most assuredly cross into North Korea to impose stability. [source(Analyst comment: According to Tillerson, the U.S. has also provided assurances to China that any American troops sent in to perform this task would do their work and then leave. Tillerson said that if Trump’s hand is forced ,“we have had conversations [with China] that if something happened and we had to go across a line, we have given the Chinese assurances we would go back and retreat back to the south of the 38th parallel” when conditions allowed.

That means the U.S. has agreed to cede North Korea to China or let China and South Korea jointly figure out how the occupation of North Korea would work, as well as what to do with its 25 million people. In past Strategic Intelligence summaries, we have noted that any U.S. operation into North Korea would have to come after China was given assurances that American troops would not occupy North Korea and, therefore, would not be stationed at any time directly on China’s border — an intolerable situation for China. Tillerson has back-handedly confirmed these talks have indeed taken place, which means that President Trump and Tillerson have managed a diplomatic breakthrough of sorts, which could help speed ‘resolution’ of the North Korean nuclear problem.)

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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