The Korea Herald


Tillerson, McMaster continue to be at odds on North Korea policy

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Dec. 20, 2017 - 20:08

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Despite sharing the common goal of achieving North Korea’s denuclearization, US State Secretary Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster are once again at odds in representing Washington’s approach toward the rogue nation. 

(Yonhap) (Yonhap)

On Tuesday, Tillerson said the international community could not start talks with North Korea unless it is ready to talk, but hinted that Washington has not ruled out the possibility of a dialogue channel with the isolated nation.

“We can’t talk unless North Korea is ready to talk,” Tillerson said in a joint press briefing with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in Vancouver.

“We’re waiting for them to indicate a readiness to talk -- this pressure campaign will not abate. … We will not be rolling any of it back,” he added.

On speculations that his stance differs from that of US President Donald Trump, Tillerson said the White House has “merely observed” that Pyongyang has yet to display “willingness to talk.”

Trump and his security aides have often taken a more hawkish approach toward North Korean issues, saying that it is not the “time for talks.”

In a recent interview with CBS, which took place on the same day as Tillerson‘s visit to Canada, McMaster said that Trump has made “very clear” that the current circumstances are inappropriate for dialogue and that negotiations cannot take place under the current circumstances surrounding the North’s fast-developing nuclear program.

“The president has made very clear that on North Korea, for example, now is not the time to talk,” McMaster said. “And what he means is, there can’t be negotiations under these current conditions. ... The problem is now that their programs have advanced so far we don’t have time to do that again, and so we can’t repeat the failed pattern of the past.”

McMaster has been reiterating that “all options are on the table” with North Korea, indicating that the US may be prepared to use a military option, if necessary.

“We’re not committed to a peaceful resolution -- we’re committed to a resolution,” McMaster said in a separate interview with the BBC.

Experts in the US expressed concerns over McMaster’s remarks, saying that it could be linked to the possibility of a pre-emptive war with North Korea.

“What’s disturbing here, beyond the fact that North Korea already has nuclear weapons, is that the implication of Gen. McMaster’s remarks is that the choice is binary: either Pyongyang gives up nuclear weapons, or we forcibly eliminate them,” Eliot Cohen, a former top official of the George W. Bush administration, told The Washington Post.

“They won’t do the former, which means that we are stuck with the latter, i.e., war.”

President Moon Jae-in said starting a war with a pre-emptive strike was unacceptable and that he has made it clear to the US that there cannot be any military action on the Korean Peninsula without Seoul’s consent. 

By Jung Min-kyung (