Rex Tillerson: No Regime Change in North Korea, ‘We Are Not Your Enemy’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the first congress of the country's ruling Workers
Kyodo/via REUTERS

At a State Department press conference on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hastened to reassure North Korea that the United States does not seek regime change and still wishes to negotiate with the regime of Kim Jong-un.

“We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek the collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel,” said Tillerson.

“We’re trying to convey to the North Koreans: We are not your enemy. We’re not your threat. But you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond,” he declared.

“We hope that at some point they will begin to understand that, and we would like to sit and begin to have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek, and the future economic prosperity for North Korea, that will then promote economic prosperity throughout Northeast Asia,” he said.

Tillerson said the threat from North Korea has “materialized” in the manner anticipated by the Trump administration from its earliest days.

“We identified it as a very urgent matter, and the North Koreans have certainly proven the urgency of that to us,” he said.

Tillerson described the administration’s strategy for dealing with North Korea as “peaceful pressure,” stressing that less peaceful policy options are “limited, particularly if we think we’re operating under a short period of time.”

Later, he repeated that if pressuring the North Korean regime peacefully fails, “our other options obviously are not particularly attractive.”

He said the U.S. hopes North Korea will return to the table for further negotiations but only if they accept as a precondition that “there is no future” for their nuclear weapons program or their efforts to develop missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads “to anyone in the region, much less to the homeland.”

Tillerson said the United States has sought partnership with China to resolve the North Korean crisis, noting that China “accounts for 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade.” He said Beijing has been “very clear with us” that it shares Washington’s objectives in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

“China has ways that they can influence and put pressure on the North Korean regime because of this significant economic relationship that no one else has,” the Secretary of State argued.

“We certainly don’t blame the Chinese for the situation in North Korea. Only the North Koreans are to blame for this situation,” he added, a statement strongly at variance with President Donald Trump’s views on the subject, as expressed on Twitter over the weekend.

Tillerson then restated China’s “special and unique relationship” with North Korea and said the administration would “continue to call on them to use that influence with North Korea to create the conditions where we can have a productive dialogue.”

“We don’t think having a dialogue where the North Koreans come to the table assuming they’re going to maintain their nuclear weapons is productive,” he said.


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