Ominous or Ambiguous? Tillerson Offers Bizarre 'No Comment' on North Korea
Confusion reigned after Secretary of State's enigmatic statement, as pundits wondered whether it signaled push toward war or retreat from engagement
In a short and oblique statement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reacted late Tuesday to North Korea's latest test launch of a ballistic missile with a curt "no comment."
North Korea illegally test-fired the missile into the sea just days before a U.S.-China summit, which will see President Donald Trump discussing Pyongyang's arms program with Chinese President Xi Yinping on Thursday and Friday at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Tillerson's statement, in full, reads: "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."
Pundits speculated as to whether Tillerson's statement signaled that the U.S. is now leaning towards war over diplomacy with North Korea, or whether it means the opposite—that the U.S. is pulling back from engaging with the issue.
I've read a lot of rote reaction statements, but rarely one like this. Could be: We're coming after you. Could be: Forget the whole thing https://t.co/r590ZlLiP6
— David Sanger (@SangerNYT) April 5, 2017
Tillerson's North Korea statement is so ambiguously bad, unclear whether he's suggesting we're about to bomb NK or he just hates his job.
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) April 5, 2017
Hours earlier, though, a Trump administration official seemed to suggest to the Guardian that the U.S. is in fact moving toward aggression.
"We would have loved to see North Korea join the community of nations," the official said. "They have been given that opportunity over the course in different dialogues and offers over the course of four administrations with some of best diplomats and statesmen doing the best they could to bring about a resolution. The clock has now run out and all options are on the table for us."
"Soon after Tillerson's remarks" in early March, reported the Washington Post at the time, "in a sign of mounting tensions, the North Korean Embassy held an extraordinary news conference in Beijing to blame the potential for nuclear war on the United States while vowing that its homegrown nuclear testing program will continue in self-defense."
Meanwhile, Trump made headlines earlier this week by asserting in an interview in the Financial Times that the U.S. would act alone against North Korea if China fails to engage. "[I]f China is not going to solve North Korea, we will," the president said.
When asked about his approach to North Korea, Trump said: "I'm not going to tell you. You know, I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East."
"There is no solving this problem 'alone,'" said Jim Walsh of MIT's Security Studies Program to the Guardian. "It would be unwise for the U.S. to act unilaterally, without the support of its ally South Korea. And frankly, there is no resolving this peacefully without China."