US President Donald Trump ramped up his combative rhetoric against North Korea on Sunday in a tweet that dismissed the role of diplomacy in the stand-off and directly contradicted his own Secretary of State.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump wrote on Twitter, using his demeaning nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” he added.
…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
His remarks come in appeared to undermine comments Tillerson made just 24 hours earlier. The Secretary of State disclosed on Saturday that the United States had several direct channels of communication with Pyongyang, the first acknowledgment from the Trump administration that it was engaging North Korea to see if they were interested in dialogue.
“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Tillerson told a small group of reporters while on a trip to China. “We ask: ‘Would you like to talk?'” He said the United States had “a couple of, three channels open to Pyongyang.”
Tillerson has continued to pursue a campaign of “peaceful pressure” in a bid to curb the isolated nation’s nuclear and missile programme, making it clear he favours a diplomatic rather than a military solution to the escalating crisis.
This approach has often been in conflict with the president, however, as Trump has continued to direct bellicose rhetoric at the North Korean regime.
At his first address to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and coined the nickname “Rocket man.”
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His remarks prompted Kim to fire back calling the president “mentally deranged” and accused him of issuing the “most ferocious declaration of war in history.”
When asked for clarification about Trump’s Sunday morning tweets, a senior White House official played down the significance of the communication channels between Washington and Pyongyang.
“At a time when North Korea is continuing its provocations, the president does not think now is the time to negotiate with them,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official also said the diplomatic channels that exist were for the purpose of securing the return of American citizens detained by North Korea.
Some saw Trump’s latest remarks as potentially embarrassing to the Secretary of State as they threaten to undermine his position during a crucial trip to Beijing.
But state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert and Tillerson’s chief public affairs adviser, R C Hammond, later took to Twitter to present a united front and deny that the administration was sending out mixed messages.
— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) October 1, 2017
“DPRK will not obtain a nuclear capability,” Nauert wrote, using the country’s official title Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “Whether through diplomacy or force is up to the regime.”
“Diplomatic channels are open for KimJongUn for now. They won’t be open forever,” she added.
Hammond, meanwhile, attempted to signal that the president’s tweets were not a rebuke of Secretary Tillerson.
“Channels have been open for months. They’ve been unused and cooling for months,” he said. “The president just sent a clear message to NK: show up at the diplomatic table before the invitation gets cold,” he added in another tweet.
“Message to Rex? Try message to Pyongyang: step up to the diplomatic table.”
The President just sent a clear message to NK: show up at the diplomatic table before the invitation gets cold. https://t.co/VAmDAthtal
— R.C. Hammond (@rchammond) October 1, 2017
Several hours after the initial tweet regarding North Korea, Trump took to Twitter again to reassert is lack of support for a diplomatic solution.
“Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now?” he said. “Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.”
Additional reporting from Reuters