The Trump administration is apparently not together on the same page when it comes to the threat of Kim Jong Un’s North Korea. On Sunday, President Trump made it clear that he did not agree with the State Department’s ongoing outreach with the Kim regime. In a series of tweets, Trump said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was not helping matters with his negotiation strategy.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of States, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” said Trump. “Save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
Later, Trump noted that decades of diplomacy from previous presidential administrations had only succeeded in getting us to the present-day crisis.
“Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now?” Trump asked. “Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.”
The president’s remarks came on the heels of a New York Times story that revealed that State Department officials were in direct contact with North Korean diplomats despite the war of words happening on the leader-to-leader level:
The Trump administration acknowledged on Saturday for the first time that it was in direct communication with the government of North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests, seeking a possible way forward beyond the escalating threats of a military confrontation from both sides.
“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said, when pressed about how he might begin a conversation with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that could avert what many government officials fear is a significant chance of open conflict between the two countries.
“We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” he added. “We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang,” a reference to North Korea’s capital.
Whether Trump’s Twitter remarks are meant for a domestic audience or for North Korea’s ears is unclear. Perhaps Trump is merely trying to send the signal to American critics that his administration is not interested in opening negotiations that might lead to another failed nuclear pact with Pyongyang. Or perhaps Trump is unhappy with Tillerson’s efforts, believing that the time is not right for diplomacy. If the latter is true, it would not only give us a window of understanding into Trump’s mindset, but it would also have unfortunate implications for the level of communication between the State Department and the White House. Surely the president did not discover these “channels” from an article in the Times?
One thing is certain: the entire administration MUST – at the very least – be on the same page if we’re to solve this international crisis. If there are forces within the administration undermining the president, that’s a serious issue that needs to be resolved, pronto.