Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in South Korea and his comments are shaking up the diplomatic status quo on the Korean peninsula. Tillerson, who said earlier that the past 20 years of diplomacy was a “failed approach,” is signaling that a new approach is at hand.
“Let me be very clear — the policy of strategic patience has ended,” the Secretary of State said. “We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table.”
Tillerson noted that the US has provided North Korea with $1.3 billion in economic aid since the Clinton Administration. “In return North Korea has detonated nuclear weapons and dramatically increased its launches of ballistic missiles to threaten America and our allies,” he said.
In an interview with Fox News, Tillerson said, “Nothing has been taken off the table” when asked about President Trump’s comments during the campaign that proliferation of nuclear weapons in East Asia might be a suitable counter to North Korean weapons programs. Japan has resisted developing nuclear weapons since World War II.
Tillerson was also asked about the possibility of military action against the North. “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table,” Tillerson replied to NBC News.
“Certainly we do not want for things to get to a military conflict,” he continued. “But obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces then that would be met with an appropriate response.”
“We have many, many steps we can take before we get to” military action and “we hope that that will persuade North Korea to take a different course of action. That’s our desire.” Tillerson added.
In a St. Patrick’s Day tweet, President Trump signaled his support for Tillerson’s shift in policy, saying, “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”
North Korea has tested nuclear weapons and missiles with increasingly long ranges over the past two decades. In January, the hermit kingdom threatened to test an intercontinental ballistic missile that could target cities in the contiguous United States. In February, North Korean agents were implicated in the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in a Malaysian airport with VX nerve agent.
“Today, North Korea not only threatens its regional neighbors but the United States and other countries,” Tillerson said.