[3/18/17] Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in his first sit-down interview since assuming his role as the nation’s top diplomat, addressed a number of pressing issues regarding the US’ role in the global order, the Korean peninsula, the precarious situation with North Korea, the US-China alliance, and his relationship with the press.
- Tillerson said the US’ main objective with regard to the east is a denuclearized Korean peninsula.
- He also believes that based on recent actions taken by North Korea, the nation is “an imminent threat” that China needs to work with the US to combat.
- The secretary of state articulated a the need for a “higher level of dialogue” between Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping.
- Tillerson said that his relationship with the press would be “trip dependent” and that he is not a “big media press access person.”
- Regarding the revelation that he allegedly used an email alias to communicate with Exxon officials about the risks of climate change, Tillerson said he could not comment on it and that questions should be directed at Exxon Mobil.
During the start of the interview, conducted by the right-leaning Independent Journal Review, Tillerson addressed recent media reports that he cut his trip to South Korea short because of “fatigue.”
“[The South Korean government] never invited us for dinner, then at the last minute they realized that optically it wasn’t playing very well in public for them, so they put out a statement that we didn’t have dinner because I was tired,” Tillerson said.
“So are you saying they lied about it?” the interviewer asked.
“No, it was just their explanation,” Tillerson replied. He continued, “The host country decides whether we are going to do things or not. We didn’t decide that.”
Regarding foreign policy, Tillerson stressed that the US’ main objective is a denuclearized Korean peninsula, but that “circumstances [regarding North Korea] could evolve” to a point where the US may have to consider allowing South Korea and Japan to develop nuclear weapons.
For the moment, Tillerson said he hopes to de-escalate the conflict with North Korea by imposing strict sanctions on the rogue nation. In addition to imposing sanctions, he voiced the need for stronger cooperation between the US and China to deter North Korea from nuclearization.
“That has been China’s stated policy for more than two decades — is a denuclearized Korean peninsula. They need to help solve this,” Tillerson said.
While acknowledging that there are a broad range of issues that define the US-China relationship, Tillerson zeroed in on North Korea because “the threat of North Korea is imminent. And it has reached a level that we are very concerned about the consequences of North Korea being allowed to continue on this progress it’s been making on the development of both weapons and delivery systems.”