Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Sunday reaffirmed his support of President Donald Trump and rejected reports of tension in their relationship — seeking to present a united front as the administration works to stifle the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.
Trump had tweeted that Tillerson is “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man” — his nickname for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un — and said he wishes his top diplomat were “a little bit tougher.”
The president also had tweeted that “only one thing will work” when it comes to the Kim regime.
“He’s not seeking to go to war,” Tillerson insisted of Trump on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“He has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts. . . . Those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.”
The secretary of state made light of a barb by Trump critic Sen. Bob Corker painting him as emasculated by his boss, but Tillerson did not deny that he had called the president a “moron.”
“You cannot publicly castrate your own secretary of state without giving yourself that binary choice,” between war and a North Korea or Iran capable of threatening the United States with nuclear weapons, Corker (R-Tenn.) told The Washington Post on Friday.
Tillerson quipped in response Sunday: “I’ve checked. I’m fully intact.”
Asked several times by CNN host Jake Tapper whether he questioned Trump’s intellect and called him a “moron,” as first reported by NBC News, Tillerson offered no denial.
“I’m not dignifying the question with an answer,” he said.
Tillerson and other top diplomatic and national security administration officials, with Sunday talk-show appearances, defended Trump’s decision Friday to decertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal while remaining in the accord and placing the onus on Congress to shore up its weak points.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed after speaking on the phone with each other Sunday that they “remained firmly committed to the deal,” May’s office said.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” discussed the link between how the administration deals with Iran and how it handles North Korea. Host Chuck Todd asked why Pyongyang should be given an incentive to strike a deal to abandon its nuclear program if the United States eventually walks away from the Iran accord.
“What we’re saying now with Iran is, ‘Don’t let it become the next North Korea.’ So what this says to North Korea: ‘Don’t expect us to engage in a bad deal,’ ” Haley said.
And if the United States and allies do negotiate a deal with the Kim regime, she said, “Expect us to hold you accountable, you’re not just going to have a free-for-all.”
Former Democratic presidential nominee and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CNN in an interview that aired Sunday that Trump’s tweeted insults are “catnip” to Kim.
“What we’ve done is to build him up, give him more legitimacy than he deserves . . . and I think that’s a very short-sighted and dangerous route to take,” she said of Kim.
Also Sunday, Trump expressed his ire at a New York Times analysis determining that his forceful rhetoric on some policies hasn’t been matched by more than partial action.
The story cited Obamacare, the Iran deal and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as examples of policies that Trump has denounced but not fully scrapped.
Trump tweeted his own examples of instances where he believed he has followed through on his promises.
“The Failing @nytimes, in a story by Peter Baker, should have mentioned the rapid terminations by me of TPP & The Paris Accord & the fast approvals of The Keystone XL & Dakota Access pipelines. Also, look at the recent EPA cancelations & our great new Supreme Court Justice!” he posted.