In his first trip to Asia as secretary of State, Rex Tillerson said Thursday that it was time for the United States and its Pacific allies to move past the failed diplomatic efforts to keep North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.
In a press conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, Tillerson said Kim Jong-un had defied international pressure in the form of condemnations and sanctions.
“I think it’s important to recognize that the political and diplomatic efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to the point of denuclearization have failed,” he said.
Tillerson alluded to a deal the U.S. made with Pyongyang in 1994, which called on North Korea to abandon their nuclear weapons program in exchange for financial aid and two nuclear power plants. The deal lasted only six years before North Korea backed away and began pursuing an atomic arsenal – a mission that continues unabated to this day. Some experts on the region predict that the regime will be capable of hitting the U.S. mainland with a nuclear missile within a few years.
“In the face of this ever-escalating threat, it is clear that a different approach is required,” Tillerson said. “Part of the purpose of my visit to the region is to exchange views on a new approach.”
While that “different approach” could include military intervention, Tillerson went to great lengths to assure North Koreans that the U.S. would not invade them if they gave up their dangerous weapons program.
“North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea,” he said. “With this in mind, the United States calls on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and refrain from any further provocation.”
The Kim regime insists that its nuclear program is intended for defensive purposes only, and it has accused the U.S. of escalating tensions by running drills with the South Korean military only a few miles from the border. Whether the mad dictator really believes this line of logic or not is not clear. What is clear, however, is that he uses wild threats and reckless nuclear testing to prop up his rapidly-failing dictatorship and keep his citizens fearful and loyal.
Threats are one thing, but we can’t afford to wait around until the day those threats turn into action. The Trump administration must play a cautious hand, but they can’t fall into the “wait and hope for the best” trap that Obama mired himself in. The clock is ticking, and the madman isn’t getting well.