(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump’s remarks on Tuesday that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury” if it continues to threaten the United States was the president’s way of speaking to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in “a language” he can understand.
Tillerson was asked whether the president’s statement was “part of a diplomatic strategy” or whether the secretary found “those remarks to be unhelpful.”
“North Korea’s rhetoric has just ratcheted up louder and louder and more threatening, so I think the president – what the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong-Un can understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” he said.
“I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the U.S. unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies, and I think it was important that he deliver that message to avoid any miscalculation on their part,” Tillerson added.
Trump’s words were met with criticism from some, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said that his remarks will only ratchet up the U.S.-North Korean conflict.
“I take exception to the president's comments because you gotta be able to do what you say you're gonna do," McCain told KTAR radio yesterday. " I don't think that's a way you attack an issue and a challenge like this."
Tillerson said the U.S. and international community “had a pretty good week” with respect to North Korea. He pointed to the “unanimous UN Security Council resolution strengthening sanctions against North Korea with China and Russia joining us in that vote.”
Tillerson then pointed to “a lot of strong statements coming out of” the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN). He said ASEAN “reinforced with a global community that has expressed its view that North Korea really needs to stand down this program.”
When asked whether the secretary, who was en route to Guam during the press briefing, considered re-routing given that North Korea’s response to the president’s remarks was to say it would direct missiles on Guam, Tillerson said, “Well, the North Korean missile capability can point in many directions, so Guam is not the only place that would be under threat.
“No, I never considered re-routing the trip back, and I do not believe that there is any imminent threat, in my own view,” Tillerson added.
When asked if there was “a longer-term threat” against Guam or the region in general, Tillerson said, “Well, I hope not. Again, what we’re hopeful is that this pressure campaign, which the entire world now has joined us in, and with the engagement of China and Russia, two of North Korea’s closest neighbors – that they can begin to persuade the regime that they needed to reconsider the current pathway they’re on and think about engaging in a dialogue about a different future.”
Asked whether the secretary has “any immediate diplomatic plans to de-escalate the situation” with North Korea “that could have an impact within days instead of months or years,” Tillerson said, “Well, we have a very active, ongoing diplomatic effort, most of which is behind the scenes because that’s where diplomacy is most effective.
“We had very open conversations, and our telephone lines remain open, certainly, to China and Russia as well as our allies, and I think publicly, we’ve been pretty clear in our statements directed at the North Koreans as to what we would like to see happen and make clear to them that we do not seek to be a threat to them, but we have to respond to the serious threats that they make towards us,” he added.
Tillerson said he does not feel a new diplomatic effort is warranted.
“I think the strategy we’re currently on is working. In fact, again, we have now garnered widespread international support, obviously, not just with the UN Security Council resolution, but globally, countries are speaking out and expressing the same view as to what North Korea should do, which is not be a threat to the stability of the region,” he said.
When asked what is “Pyongyang’s way out,” Tillerson said, “Talks. Talks with the right expectation of what those talks will be about.”
Tillerson said Americans should not be worried about North Korea.
“I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days. I think that the president, again, as commander-in-chief, I think he felt it necessary to issue a very strong statement directly to North Korea. But I think what the president was just reaffirming is the United States has the capability to fully defend itself with any attack, will defend our allies, and we will do so, so the American people should sleep well at night,” he said.