Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Rex Tillerson

The White House walked back Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's remarks from Tuesday that the United States would open a diplomatic dialogue with North Korea without requiring the nation to first denuclearize. (Photo: State Department)

Trump White House Smacks Down Tillerson's Call for Direct Talks With North Korea

Tillerson's suggestion of diplomacy reportedly "alarmed" White House officials, who worried his conciliatory comments would "sow confusion" when compared with the president's more hostile remarks

Jessica Corbett

After advocates for peace and diplomacy cautiously applauded Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's declaration on Tuesday that the Trump administration would agree to direct talks with North Korea to address rising nuclear tensions without the precondition that North Korea denuclearize prior to negotiations, the White House issued a statement walking back Tillerson's comments.

"The President's views on North Korea have not changed," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement to reporters. "North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea's actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea."

Speaking at a D.C. think tank on Tuesday, Tillerson's had said the administration was "ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk" and would "have the first meeting without precondition."

Several anonymous sources within the White House told the New York Times that Tillerson's "conciliatory tone" had "alarmed" officials within the administration "because they feared that it would sow confusion among allies after Mr. Trump rallied them behind a policy of 'maximum pressure.'"

This is not the first time the president has publicly reprimanded Tillerson for expressing a desire to pursue a diplomatic approach to North Korea and the nation's ongoing efforts to expand its nuclear arsenal. In early October, Trump tweeted: "I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man...Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!"

This latest standoff between the White House and Trump's top diplomat comes amid mounting concerns about armed conflict between the United States and North Korea.

Writing for Foreign Policy in Focus this week, John Feffer notes that despite Trump's aggressive foreign policy toward Afghanistan, Palestine, Yemen, and Iran, "no war has acquired quite the same apparent inevitability as the conflict with North Korea."

In Washington, added Feffer, "pundits and policymakers are talking about a 'three-month window' within which the Trump administration can stop North Korea from acquiring the capability to strike U.S. cities with nuclear weapons," pointing to an estimate that reportedly comes from the CIA. "This aura of inevitability should put prevention of conflict with North Korea at the top of the urgent to-do list of all international institutions, engaged diplomats, and concerned citizens."

"A warning about the costs of war may not convince people who want Kim Jong Un and his regime out regardless of consequences," Feffer acknowledges, "but a preliminary estimate of the human, economic, and environmental costs of a war should make enough people think twice, lobby hard against military actions by all sides, and support legislative efforts to prevent Trump from launching a preemptive strike without congressional approval."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

GOP 'Silence Speaks Volumes,' Says Ilhan Omar as Boebert's Bigotry Goes Unpunished

"Normalizing this bigotry not only endangers my life but the lives of all Muslims. Anti-Muslim bigotry has no place in Congress."

Brett Wilkins ·


Africans Should Be 'Applauded, Not Punished,' Say Advocates Amid Omicron Travel Ban

"What is going on right now is inevitable," said African Union Vaccine Delivery Alliance co-chair Dr. Ayoade Alakija. "It's a result of the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent, and speedy manner."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Drilling Report Blasted as 'Shocking Capitulation to the Needs of Corporate Polluters'

"Greenlighting more fossil fuel extraction, then pretending it's OK by nudging up royalty rates, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·


UNESCO Members Adopt First Global AI Ethics Agreement 'To Benefit Humanity'

"We're at a critical juncture in history," said Ethics in Tech founder Vahid Razavi. "We need as humans to come together and decide what is the best course of action to take with these technologies before they surpass us in their abilities."

Brett Wilkins ·


Progressive US Lawmakers Mark Black Friday With Calls to Pass the PRO Act

"The right to organize, fight for better working conditions, and fair pay must always be protected."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo