Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday slammed news reports suggesting he was breaking with the president on North Korea a day earlier.
“I can’t help people who misinterpret things. I’ll do my best to call it like I see it, but right now if I say ‘six’ and the president says ‘half a dozen,’ they’re going to say I disagree with him, so let’s just get over that,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.
He added, “and if that’s the story that some people want to write then they’ll find the way they’ll sort out something, but there was nothing contradictory there.”
News reports suggested Mattis had broken with Trump on North Korea, after Trump tweeted on North Korea, “Talking is not the answer!” and he had later told a reporter: “We’re never out of diplomatic solutions.”
Numerous reporters and news outlets tweeted variations of “Mattis breaks with Trump!” on Twitter.
Defense Sec Mattis breaks w Trump on North Korea
POTUS: "Talking is not the answer!"
Mattis: "We're never out of diplomatic options." pic.twitter.com/cKKvumEw2d
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) August 30, 2017
Mattis on Thursday explained to reporters he was answering the question that was asked, which was: “Are we out of diplomatic solutions for North Korea?” — and not a question about the president’s tweet.
He said the president was referring to negotiating with North Korea, and that there were other diplomatic options available, such as sanctions and multilateral diplomacy.
“Diplomatic is a lot more than just the narrow slice of talking to North Korea,” he said. “So there was no contradiction at all there.”
He said if had he been asked about the tweet, he would have said that he agreed with the president.
“I agree with the president — we should not be talking right now to a nation that’s firing missiles over the top of Japan, an ally,” he said.
Mattis also ridiculed recent reports that suggested an impromptu speech he gave to troops in Jordan last week was a rebuke to the president, as some news reports said.
During that speech, he praised troops for being an example for the nation and told them to “hold the line” until Americans went back to respecting each other.
Mattis said he was literally echoing the president’s own words, and people thought he was criticizing the president.
“Literally I’m using the president’s thoughts and they thought that I was distancing from the president. So I mean it shows how ludicrous this really is,” he said.
“I’m not trying to make fun of people who write along those lines, but I literally can take the president’s themes and use them, and I’m still seen as at odds with the president.
“I think this is more someone’s rather rich imagination.”