President Donald Trump took to Twitter Sunday to tell Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to stop “wasting his time trying to negotiate” with North Korea a day after Tillerson revealed lines of communication were open between the two countries.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” he tweeted, using the nickname he has used for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump followed up by tweeting, “We’ll do what has to be done!”
Later in the day, Trump tweeted that trying to appease “Rocket Man” had failed for the past 25 years. Kim Jong Un, 33, came to power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in 2011.
“Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail,” Trump wrote.
Tillerson had acknowledged on Saturday, after meetings in Beijing with Chinese leaders, that the Trump administration was keeping open direct channels of communication with North Korea and probing the North’s willingness to talk.
He provided no elaboration about those channels or the substance of any discussions. After he left China, his spokeswoman issued a statement saying that North Korean officials “have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization.”
North Korea has ramped up its testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles as the United States has pushed forward on international economic sanctions against the reclusive nation.
Last month Trump told the UN General Assembly that if the U.S. is “forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
Some commentators seized on Trump’s tweets as evidence that he was either undermining Tillerson personally or his diplomacy, or both. Others said the tweets might represent a “good-cop, bad-cop approach” to North Korea that may or may not be misguided or bear fruit.
Still others saw Trump’s words as an attempt to give Tillerson diplomatic cover and potentially strengthen his hand in persuading North Korea to come to the table by declaring the effort a “waste of time” that the U.S. could abandon at any time in favor of tightening sanctions even further or a military response.
Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. “absolutely” should step up diplomatic efforts. “We’re moving to a place where we’re going to end up with a binary choice soon,” Corker told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview before Trump had tweeted.
“I think Tillerson understands that every intelligence agency we have says there’s no amount of economic pressure you can put on North Korea to get them to stop this program because they view this as their survival,” Corker said.
He added: “If we don’t ramp up the diplomatic side, it’s possible that we end up cornered.”