Trump Says Tillerson Is ‘Wasting His Time’ on North Korea
“It may be intended as a good-cop, bad-cop strategy, but the tweet is so over the top that it undercuts Tillerson,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former Korea analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Council. “It’s hard to imagine any other president speaking in this manner.”
Christopher R. Hill, who under President George W. Bush was the last American negotiator to reach a significant agreement with North Korea, said, “Clearly, it is part of his management style, which seems to be to undermine his people at every turn.” While Mr. Hill took issue with the way Mr. Tillerson handled his disclosure in Beijing on Saturday, “Trump’s tweet undermines Tillerson’s visit, leaving his interlocutors wondering why they are wasting the time to speak with him.”
But Michael Green, who was Mr. Bush’s chief Asia adviser, said the time was not ripe yet for talks. “The president is right on this one in the sense that Pyongyang is clear it will not put nuclear weapons on the negotiating table, nor will the current level of sanctions likely convince them to do so, though an effective sanctions regime might in time,” he said.
Indeed, several hours after his initial tweets, Mr. Trump seemed to preclude the possibility that the time might ever be ripe, without laying out his own preferred strategy. “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now?” he wrote, evidently referring not just to Mr. Kim, who took over six years ago, but also his father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founder. “Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.”
North Korea has provoked a conflict with the United States and its Asian allies in recent weeks with its sixth test of a nuclear bomb and its first successful tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially deliver a warhead to the United States mainland. Mr. Trump has responded by vowing to “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to defend the United States or its allies, while ratcheting up economic pressure through sanctions.
Mr. Tillerson told reporters traveling with him in Beijing on Saturday that he was seeking a diplomatic solution. “We are probing, so stay tuned,” he said. For the first time, he disclosed that the United States had two or three channels to Pyongyang asking “Would you like to talk?” Therefore, he said, “we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout.”
There have been no indications that Mr. Kim is any more interested in talks than Mr. Trump. He has responded to the president’s threats with more of his own, castigating Mr. Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and suggesting through his foreign minister that he might order the first atmospheric nuclear test the world has seen in 37 years.