US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out a new US strategy toward North Korea on Tuesday that was met with cheers in Russia and China but may have been squashed by the White House on the same day.
“We’re ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition,” Tillerson said at an event at the Atlantic Council. His words appeared to signal a significant shift in US policy toward North Korea. Instead of the promise of verifiable denuclearization, Tillerson simply asked for a “period of quiet” in which North Korea pause testing nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told Russian media he welcomed the decision. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, told a press briefing the same.
But the White House, where Tillerson has reportedly fallen out of favor, seemed to push back. “The president’s views on North Korea have not changed,” the White House said in a vague statement, according to Reuters. “North Korea is acting in an unsafe way … North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”
Trump has frequently talked up military and kinetic responses to North Korea’s missile testing, and he has often undermined Tillerson’s efforts at diplomacy, once calling them a waste of time. In the past month, Trump administration sources began leaking that Tillerson may be on his way out of the executive branch in favor of a Trump favorite, CIA Director Mike Pompeo.