Sunday 21 October 2018

We'll talk to the North Koreans 'until first bomb drops': Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: Reuters

Sarah Lynch in Washington

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has tried to ease the growing tension with North Korea by saying diplomatic efforts would continue "until the first bomb drops".

The comments came after his negotiations were undermined by US President Donald Trump tweeting that Mr Tillerson was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with the leader of the nuclear-armed nation.

U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

But Mr Tillerson told a TV interviewer that Mr Trump had "made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically. He is not seeking to go to war".

Mixed messaging from Washington has raised concerns about the potential for miscalculation amid the increasingly bellicose exchange of words by Mr Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea has launched missiles that potentially can strike the US mainland and recently conducted its largest-ever underground nuclear explosion. It's threatened to explode another nuclear bomb above the Pacific.

Mr Tillerson tried to play down his uneasy relationship with Mr Trump, and brushed aside comments from an influential senator, who compared Mr Trump's undermining to a public castration.

"I am fully committed to his objectives. I agree with his objectives. I agree with what he is trying to do," Mr Tillerson said on CNN's 'State of the Union'.

Mr Tillerson's tenure as secretary of state has been dogged by rumours about rifts with Mr Trump over policy.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker said Mr Trump's "wasting his time" comments were the equivalent of castrating the secretary in public.

"I checked. I'm fully intact," Mr Tillerson said when asked about Senator Corker's comments.

But Mr Tillerson repeatedly declined to answer a question about a report by NBC News that said the secretary of state had called Mr Trump a "moron" during a private meeting in July with US officials.

The secretary of state accused CNN moderator Jake Tapper of trying to "make a game" out of pressing him on the "moron" comment. "I'm not playing," Mr Tillerson said.

Mr Tillerson has often found himself at odds with the president on a range of issues, from withdrawing from the Paris agreement on climate change to North Korea and, at times, Iran, according to current and former US officials and news media reports.

Mr Tillerson acknowledged in a separate appearance on CBS's 'Face the Nation' yesterday that he and the president "don't agree on everything".

"Sometimes he changes his mind," Mr Tillerson said. "I will work as hard as I can to implement his decisions successfully."

Meanwhile, senior Trump administration officials insisted the US is committed to remaining part of the Iran nuclear accord for now, despite the president's criticisms of the deal and his warnings that he might pull out.

Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, said that Tehran was complying with the 2015 nuclear accord intended to increase Iran's accountability in return for the lifting of some economic sanctions.

"I think right now you're going to see us stay in the deal," Ms Haley said. But she claimed other countries were "turning a blind eye" to some Iranian activities in order to "protect" the nuclear agreement.

Irish Independent

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