Tillerson suggests willingness to preemptively strike North Korea

Given Donald Trump’s long-held position about the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear-weapons deal (hated it), it’s not terribly unexpected that his secretary of state would project a steadfast unwillingness to negotiate with North Korea over its escalating nuclear arsenal. But particularly given Secretary Rex Tillerson’s low public profile prior to this week’s whirlwind diplomatic tour, his remarks at a press conference in Seoul, South Korea were nevertheless stunning.

After making it clear that there would be no room for negotiation, Tillerson drolly confirmed that the previous administration’s “policy of strategic patience has ended,” elaborating only generally about a “new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measure” being considered. Among them, a possible preemptive military strike, should North Korea and its confrontational leader, Kim Jong-un, “elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level we believe requires action.” He did not detail what specific action would prompt a potential act of war from the United States.

Tillerson’s remarks are consistent with those of UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who told the Today Show (Matt Lauer with the scoops!) last week that “we’re all aware military action could be an option” and North Korea is the free world’s “absolute, number-one threat.” And, frankly, Kim Jong-un’s prideful boasting of his nation’s nuclear might clears a cozy path for hawkish rhetoric. What’s thoroughly unclear is whether Tillerson, Haley, et al can leverage Kim’s volatility and strong-arm its neighboring Asian countries (not to mention Russia) into rallying around North Korea as a common enemy. None of which will provide great comfort to these terrified Japanese school children.

[New York Times | photo: Getty]