Tillerson Strives to Calm Fears Over Trump’s Impromptu Nuclear Threats
After President Trump made haphazard threats on Tuesday to fight North Korea “with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which the world has never seen before,” his top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, is working to calm tensions, insisting that there isn’t “any imminent threat.”
Trump’s comments, made during a meeting held at his golf club in New Jersey, seemed to come from left field, with one White House official labeling Trump’s outburst “impromptu.” Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to reaffirm America’s nuclear power, writing that his “first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal.”
Many quickly took issue with that claim, according to The Associated Press:
It wasn’t immediately clear what evidence the president had, if any, to support his claim about the nuclear force. The White House wouldn’t say, other than to point to an executive order Trump signed in his first days in office commissioning a review to ensure the U.S. nuclear deterrent is “modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready” and tailored for 21st century threats.
The White House has not detailed any findings from that evaluation. A modernization effort started by former President Barack Obama is in the early stages, but the force is essentially unchanged from the way Trump inherited it on Jan. 20.
Stephen Schwartz, an independent analyst of nuclear weapons issues, called the boast “patently absurd.” He wrote on Twitter that “literally nothing has happened in the last 201 days to increase the overall power of the US nuclear arsenal.”
As usual, Trump’s own staff has been left to handle the fallout from his incendiary remarks. Tillerson, speaking during a scheduled stop in Guam (which North Korea threatened to strike in response to Trump’s initial comment), tried to smooth over the situation on Wednesday morning.
“Americans should sleep well at night,” Tillerson said. “Nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours.”
However, the mixed messages from Tillerson and Trump may leave Americans and North Koreans uneasy.
According to AP:
In more tranquil terms, Tillerson sought to explain the thinking behind Trump’s warning. Tillerson said the president was trying to send a strong and clear message to North Korea’s leader so that there wouldn’t be “any miscalculation.
“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime that the U.S. has an unquestionable ability to defend itself.” He said the U.S. “will defend itself and its allies.”
The comments put Tillerson once again in the role of translating the president’s aggressive rhetoric into more diplomatic terms and of working to minimize the chances of public panic. In fact, Tillerson argued that North Korea’s escalating threats indicated it was feeling the pressure from a successful U.S. strategy.
While addressing the conflict, Tillerson said he did not believe a new diplomatic strategy was needed. AP continues:
[Tillerson] said the latest threat from the North suggested the current strategy was working. After months of frustration over China’s reluctance to pressure Pyongyang economically, the U.S. on Saturday secured a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote to authorize sweeping new sanctions that target one-third of the North’s exports.
“The pressure is starting to show,” Tillerson said. “I think that’s why the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang is beginning to become louder and more threatening. Whether we’ve got them backed into a corner or not is difficult to say, but diplomatically, you never like to have someone in a corner without a way for them to get out.”
Tillerson also emphasized that Pyongyang could return to negotiations with the U.S. “Talks, with the right expectation of what those talks will be about,” would be the best route for North Korea, he said.
Trump’s aides and advisers report that while the president has asked many questions about North Korea, he has not made any moves to indicate imminent action. Politico explains:
The episode encapsulates the Trump era so far: An impatient president prone to exaggeration and unfamiliar with the subtleties of diplomacy fires off bellicose comments; his Cabinet secretaries and advisers scramble to mitigate the damage; and ultimately, allies and adversaries are left struggling with what to believe.
Politico notes that within the White House, Trump’s initial comments were not taken “too seriously,” according to an administration adviser. “There was no sense of panic,” a senior White House official added.Your support matters…
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