North Korea, in spite of unyielding international pressure, has continued actively working to develop reliable nuclear weapons, and the current U.S. administration’s answer is to give Pyongyang more time to choose a different path.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on a tour of Asia that has taken him to Japan, South Korea, and China. In Japan, he stressed that the policies of the past 20 years have “failed” and called for a “new approach.” In South Korea, he upped the ante by announcing that the use of military force against North Korea is an option.
The U.S. policy of “strategic patience,” waiting for North Korea to change course or collapse, is ending, Tillerson said.
Later in the course of his trip, Tillerson toned down his rhetoric on North Korea.
“Our objective is to have the regime in North Korea come to a conclusion that the reasons that they have felt they have had to develop nuclear weapons, those reasons are not well-founded,” Tillerson told a reporter from Independent Journal Review. “We want to change that understanding.”
Despite calls for a new approach to North Korea, the secretary of state told IJR’s Erin McPike that the U.S. will attempt to use sanctions to curb the regime’s nuclear ambitions. He indicated that these sanctions may be followed by broader sanctions if necessary. Speaking in Beijing, Tillerson also indicated that the U.S. will work with China to change the situation on the Korean peninsula, possibly suggesting that the U.S. will pressure China to rein in North Korea. Such practices appear to be, in many ways, consistent with the policies and practices of past administrations.
“We’ve tried to be very clear and succinct with the message, which is, first, we do not intend to be a threat to you,” Tillerson said, referring to the message the U.S. hopes to convey to Pyongyang. “We do not want to have a conflict with you. We want you to change your direction. And we want others in the region to help us help them make a different decision.”
“That’s the first step,” he added.
Tillerson further remarked that the message to North Korea “has to be backed up with action, so that they understand we’re serious.” He did not, however, state what “action” specifically entails.
“This is a staged approach in which we want to give the North Korean government time to understand what’s happening, time to make decisions and adjust. It’s not our objective to force them into some brash action,” the secretary of state told IJR. “It’s our objective for them to understand things only continue to get more difficult if they don’t change their path. We want to give you time to change your path.”
His comments to IJR reflect some of Tillerson’s previous statements on North Korea.
“North Korea and its people need not fear the United States, or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea,” Tillerson explained at a press conference in Tokyo Thursday. “With this in mind, the United States calls on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and refrain from any further provocations.”
North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. During the Obama administration, North Korea conducted four nuclear tests, each with a greater explosive yield.
Pyongyang has repeatedly stated that it intends to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to targets in the continental U.S.
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