U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has touted the diplomatic accomplishments of President Donald Trump’s administration this year, saying “Americans should be encouraged” by its dealings with the U.S.’ “greatest security threat,” North Korea, along with China and Russia.
In an opinion piece published Thursday in The New York Times, Tillerson wrote that Trump “abandoned the failed policy of strategic patience” and adopted a “policy of pressure” toward North Korea “through diplomatic and economic sanctions.”
The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea last Friday, slashing fuel supplies, tightening shipping restrictions and appealing for the expulsion of North Koreans working abroad — a significant source of revenue for Pyongyang.
Tillerson also said pressure from the U.S. and its allies “has cut off roughly 90 percent of North Korea’s export revenue,” much of which he said Pyongyang used to fund the development of illegal weapons.
“We hope that this international isolation will pressure the regime into serious negotiations on the abandonment of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Tillerson wrote.
After overcoming technological obstacles this year to develop a modern nuclear weapons program, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un denounced the new sanctions on Christmas Day, saying that they represent “an act of war” and that relinquishing his country’s nuclear weapons was a “pipe dream.”
Tillerson said China has imposed some import bans and sanctions against North Korea, “but it could and should do more.” He said the U.S. would pursue talks with China on issues such as trade imbalances and China’s “troubling” military activities in the South China Sea. The U.S. will also “carefully consider” how to manage its long-term relationship with China, which Tillerson described as a rising “economic and military power.”
Tillerson praised the U.S. role in the recapture of Islamic State territory in Iraq and Syria and the administration’s new Afghanistan-focused South Asia strategy. Tilllerson said Afghanistan “cannot become a safe haven for terrorists” and called on Pakistan to fight terrorists “on its own soil.”
“We are prepared to partner with Pakistan to defeat terrorists organizations seeking safe havens, but Pakistan must demonstrate its desire to partner with us,” he wrote.
The top American diplomat acknowledged the U.S. has a poor relationship with a “resurgent Russia” that has invaded neighboring countries Georgia and Ukraine and “undermined the sovereignty of Western nations by meddling in our election and others.”
Shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the probe into Russia, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel of an investigation into whether any members of Trump’s campaign conspired with Russian agents during the campaign.
Earlier this year, the U.S. intelligence community released a report concluding Russia had meddled in the 2016 presidential election, showing a preference for Trump over Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent. There are also several congressional probes into the matter. Russia denies meddling in the election, and Trump has denied any collusion with the Russians.
“While we are on guard against Russian aggression, we recognize the need to work with Russia where mutual interests intersect,” Tillerson wrote, citing the Syrian civil war where the two countries have supported opposing sides but pushed for peace negotiations.
Tillerson’s remarks about Iran were less conciliatory. He said the U.S. has abandoned the “flawed Iran nuclear deal” as the focus of its policy toward the Persian Gulf country, adding, “We are now confronting the totality of Iranian threats.”
The assessment of the administration’s diplomatic successes this year belies the tension that has existed between Tillerson and Trump. Senior administration officials said last month the White House has developed a plan to push Tillerson out of office. The two men have disagreed on a number of significant issues, including the confrontation with North Korea and the Iran nuclear deal.
Tilllerson reportedly called the president a “moron” and Trump publicly disparaged Tillerson for “wasting his time” by reaching out diplomatically to North Korea.