Trumps's tweet, Mattis clashing over N. Korea
President disdains ‘talking’; defense chief champions it.
Declaring Wednesday on Twitter that “talking is not the answer” on North Korea, President Donald Trump appeared to clash with efforts by his Cabinet members as Kim Jong Un’s military races toward building a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach America.
The president’s morning tweet came a day after a highly provocative North Korean missile test that flew over Japan, a close American ally.
On Wednesday, Kim called for more weapons launches in the Pacific.
“The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” Trump tweeted.
The statement raised fresh uncertainty about the Trump administration’s strategy for North Korea.
How the U.S. plans to address the North’s grow- ing nuclear capabilities is of increasing urgency not just in Northeast Asia, but also in the United States. Last month, the isolated, communist country tested for the first time a missile that could potentially strike the U.S. mainland.
Trump didn’t spell out what he meant by “extortion,” but he appeared to be referring to the $1.3 bil- lion the U.S. has provided in aid to North Korea since 1995. Most of that has been in the form of food and fuel in return for the North’s agreement to refrain from testing nuclear weapons.
His comment, however, overlooked that fact there has been virtually no U.S. aid to North Korea since early 2009, when it resumed testing. Talks also have been in limbo for years. The last formal negotiation between Washington and Pyongyang on the nuclear issue occurred in 2012.
Eliminating the possibility of new negotiations could limit U.S. options, and wthin hours of Trump’s tweet, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appeared to contradict him.
“We’re never out of diplo- matic solutions,” Mattis said as he met with his counterpart from South Korea for talks on military readiness.
U.S.-allied South Korea supports, in theory, greater diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang. If war were to ever break out, millions of South Koreans would immediately find themselves within range of the North’s large conventional weapons arsenal.
In Geneva, Robert Wood, the U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, sought to explain the president’s tweet.
Trump was expressing his frustration at North Korea’s “dangerous and provocative threats,” Wood said. But like Mattis, he said the U.S. remained willing to discuss the North’s denuclearization.
“The United States is open to trying to deal with this question diplomatically, but the other side is not,” Wood told reporters.
It’s not the first time Trump has complicated his administration’s national security message via social media.
Last mo n th, as aides worked to defuse tensions between Qatar and its Arab neighbors, Trump blindsided them by tweeting that Qatar funded terrorism. The monarchy hosts 11,000 U.S. troops.
There has been virtually no U.S. aid to North Korea since 2009.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (center) attends a meeting Wednesday at the Pentagon with South Korean defense officials.