WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 13: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to members of the media at the State Department October 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. Tillerson had a meeting with Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro at the State Department today. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP ALEX WONG / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Sunday denied that Donald Trump’s threat to tear up the Iran nuclear deal had weakened America’s chance of reining in North Korea through diplomacy.
Asserting that Washington had “unified the international community” on the North Korean threat, Tillerson vowed efforts to contain its nuclear and ballistic missile drive through diplomacy would continue “until the first bomb drops.”
In a virulent speech watched around the world Friday, Trump refused to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 deal on curbing its nuclear program, kicking the accord’s fate to Congress which he told to address its “many serious flaws” — and threatening to walk away if his demands are not met.
By calling into question the landmark deal — to which Tehran seems to be adhering — worried allies fear the US president sent a message to Pyongyang that America’s word cannot be trusted.
Tillerson pushed back at that notion on CNN’s State of the Union, saying: “I think what North Korea should take away from this decision is that the United States will expect a very demanding agreement with North Korea.”
“One that is very binding and achieves the objectives not just of the United States but the policy objectives of China and other neighbors in the region, a denuclearized Korean peninsula.”
“If we achieve that, there will be nothing to walk away from because the objective will be achieved.”
The US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley pushed the same argument during appearances on Sunday talk shows, telling ABC’s This Week that reevaluating the Iran deal “sends the perfect message to North Korea, which is, we’re not going to engage in a bad deal.”
‘Not seeking war’
Tillerson argued that US efforts to bring Kim Jong-Un’s regime closer to talks were bearing fruit, pointing at the fact both Russia and China, Pyongyang’s sole major ally, had signed up to the latest set of sanctions imposed in response to its sixth nuclear test — the largest yet — and the firing of two missiles over Japan.
“I think on North Korea we have completely unified the international community,” Tillerson said. “The president is building a very strong message to North Korea that you will engage with us at some point to solve this because we’re not going to allow you to have nuclear weapons.”
But Tillerson’s own efforts have been repeatedly overshadowed by Trump’s un-diplomatic style and streams of bellicose tweets stirring international tensions.
Early this month, as the top diplomat flew home from meeting with top Chinese officials, Trump tweeted that his envoy was “wasting his time” in trying to probe North Korea’s willingness to talk.
Tillerson denied Trump was undermining him on the international stage, after outspoken Republican senator and Trump critic Bob Corker accused the president of seeking to “castrate” his Secretary of State.
“No, sir. He has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts,” Tillerson said. “Those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.”
“The president has also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically,” he added. “He’s not seeking to go to war.”
The Secretary of State was forced this month to deny claims of a serious rift with Trump, after it was reported he had called the president a “moron.”
Tillerson has refused to outright deny the report, which he once more dismissed on CNN as “petty stuff.”
But he had a quick comeback at the ready when asked about Corker’s claim that Trump was trying to neuter him on the world stage: “I checked. I’m fully intact.”