AFPWASHINGTON (AFP-Jiji) — Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Tuesday his department “supports fully” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s effort to find a diplomatic solution to the North Korea nuclear stand-off.
Defense Secretary Mattis was speaking two days after U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to undermine his top diplomat by saying he was “wasting his time” by talking to Kim Jong Un’s regime.
State Department officials insist Trump was not criticizing Tillerson, but pressuring Kim Jong Un’s regime to agree to discuss its disarmament while a diplomatic option remains on the table.
Mattis, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon stands four square behind the strategy — and singled out Tillerson for support.
“The international community ... is focused on the destabilizing threat posed by North Korea and Kim Jong Un’s relentless pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities,” he said.
“The Defense Department supports fully Secretary Tillerson’s efforts to find a diplomatic solution but remains focused on defense of the United States and our allies.”
Tillerson has explained the strategy as one of using United Nations and U.S. sanctions and diplomatic pressure to convince Kim of his isolation and force him to negotiate nuclear disarmament.
U.S. officials insist publicly that they have military options to counter the threat from Pyongyang if this fails, but admit privately that they are risky.
So it was hard to square Tillerson’s diplomatic push with the Trump tweets that greeted him Sunday as he flew back from meeting Chinese leader in Beijing.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump wrote, using his dismissive nickname for Kim.
“Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” he added, apparently suggesting that some kind of non-diplomatic option was back on the table.
‘Stay with Iran deal’
Mattis added his heavyweight support to retaining the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday, as more hawkish voices pushed for tougher action against Tehran.
Mattis told lawmakers the deal remains in the U.S. national interest.
“If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then surely we should stay with it,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I believe at this point in time, absent indication to the contrary, it is something that the president should consider staying with,” he said.