Posts Tagged ‘Tillerson’

Trump again puts off Afghanistan war decision

August 19, 2017

The Hill

Trump again puts off Afghanistan war decision
© Getty

President Trump on Friday again deferred on choosing a path forward for the 16-year-old Afghanistan war, despite a high-level meeting at Camp David to discuss options with his core national security team.

The meeting included Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Vice President Pence cut short a trip to South America to attend the meeting.

This is not the first time the president was widely expected to make a decision on an updated strategy for the war in Afghanistan but held off, frustrating top national security and defense officials as well as lawmakers.

Administration officials expected Trump to pick a path in May prior to attending the NATO summit in Belgium. And Mattis in June promised lawmakers that a decision would likely come in July.

A variety of reasons are driving the delay, including the complexity of the conflict and the president’s hesitation to make a decision that may ultimately prove to be the wrong move, according to James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation

“We need a strategy that’s going to be sustainable maybe eight years. There is no short answer here,” said Carafano, who was a member of the Trump transition team.

“The burden really is on the national security team to show Trump they have the most effective strategy to do that, because this is then going to be his war, his responsibility.”

Members of the administration still hold disagreements on the best path forward for Afghanistan, which will include how to handle conflicts along the border of Pakistan. Military leaders are pushing for additional U.S. troops, but Trump has reportedly been wary of continued American presence in the region.

Mattis and National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. HR McMaster want to send 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops to the country to combat the Taliban, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al Qaeda. Recently ousted chief strategist Stephen Bannon, however, had urged against it, saying that would amount to nation building.

Other options on the table include using private contractors, withdrawing altogether or keeping the current strategy, which consists of the existing 8,400 U.S. troop continuing to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions.

In July, Trump showed his reluctance to side with his military advisors by increasing troop numbers.

“We’ve been there for now close to 17 years, and I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years, how it’s going, and what we should do in terms of additional ideas,” Trump told reporters.

When asked about a possible troop increase, Trump only said, “We’ll see.”

The immobility on a plan also has bothered lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who earlier this month unveiled his own strategy for Afghanistan.

“Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened,” McCain said in a statement. “The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.”

Anthony Cordesman, a military strategy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the president is deeply frustrated with his list of military options, a complex formula that depends upon the backing of the Afghan government.

Foreign policy experts have expressed doubt that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will be able to stop corruption and effectively use American aid to bolster the Afghan National Security Forces. Pentagon leaders would depend on the forces to keep out terrorist groups once U.S. troops leave.

Image result for President Ashraf Ghani, photos

President Ashraf Ghani

“The Afghan government is very divided, it’s weak,” Cordesman said. “Even if [Trump] does all the military recommends, there is a 50-50 chance that the Afghanistan response is going to be effective enough. Everything we’re doing depends on the Afghans.”

Cordesman also suggested that Trump’s reported criticism of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, “likely stems from Nicholson told him the truth and the truth is unpleasant.”

Trump in July 19 meeting with his national security team pushed to fire Nicholson, NBC News reported earlier this month.

“We aren’t winning,” Trump complained during the meeting. “We are losing.”

“The options are so uncertain and so complex and confusing,” Cordesman said. “Not the kind of forward, positive proposal that [Trump] may be used to.”

Cordesman added that the longer Trump waits to make a decision, the worse it will be for soldiers on the ground. Afghanistan’s fighting season lasts into the fall. With no plan yet given as of late August, “nothing you do now is going to be effective, you lost pretty close to a year to actually influence the situation on the ground.”

Even with no decision yet made, Carafano said it was significant that Trump and his national security team went off site to Camp David to discuss options.

“Obviously I wish the process had gone on sooner, I think part of that is the difficulty of the decision. Afghanistan involves a lot of moving pieces and you have to make a commitment that will stick longer over time,” he said.

Mattis, meanwhile, promised again Thursday that the administration is “coming very close to a decision, and I anticipate it in the very near future.”

Earlier this month, Trump assured reporters of the same thing at his club in New Jersey.

“We’re getting close. We’re getting very close,” Trump said. “It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess and we’re going to make it a lot less messy.”


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Trump Eyes China Sanctions While Seeking Its Help on North Korea

August 13, 2017

BEIJING — In a diplomatic gamble, President Trump is seeking to enlist China as a peacemaker in the bristling nuclear-edged dispute with North Korea at the very moment he plans to ratchet up conflict with Beijing over trade issues that have animated his political rise.

Mr. Trump spoke late Friday with his counterpart, President Xi Jinping of China, to press the Chinese to do more to rein in North Korea as it races toward development of long-range nuclear weapons that could reach the United States. Mr. Xi sought to lower the temperature after Mr. Trump’s vow to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, urging restraint and a political solution.

But the conversation came as Mr. Trump’s administration was preparing new trade action against China that could inflame the relationship. Mr. Trump plans to return to Washington on Monday to sign a memo determining whether China should be investigated for intellectual property violations, accusing Beijing of failing to curb the theft of trade secrets and rampant online and physical piracy and counterfeiting. An investigation would be intended to lead to retaliatory measures.

The White House had planned to take action on intellectual property earlier but held off as it successfully lobbied China to vote at the United Nations Security Council for additional sanctions on North Korea a week ago. Even now, the extra step of determining whether to start the investigation is less than trade hawks might have wanted, but softens the blow to China and gives Mr. Trump a cudgel to hold over it if he does not get the cooperation he wants.

While past presidents have tried at least ostensibly to keep security and economic issues on separate tracks in their dealings with China, Mr. Trump has explicitly linked the two, suggesting he would back off from a trade war against Beijing if it does more to pressure North Korea. “If China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade, a lot differently toward trade,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Mr. Trump has sought to leverage trade and North Korea with China for months, initially expressing optimism after hosting Mr. Xi at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, only to later grow discouraged that Beijing was not following through. The effort has now reached a decisive point with the overt threats of American military action against North Korea — warnings clearly meant for Beijing’s ears.

China is widely seen as critical to any resolution to the nuclear crisis because of its outsize role as North Korea’s main economic benefactor. China accounts for as much as 90 percent of North Korea’s total trade and supplies most of its food and energy while serving as the primary purchaser of its minerals, seafood and garments.

But even though the effectiveness of the new United Nations sanctions depends largely on China’s willingness to enforce them, the Trump administration so far has failed to come up with enough incentives to compel China to do so, analysts said.

In their phone conversation on Friday night, Mr. Xi stressed that it was “very important” for the two leaders to maintain contact to find “an appropriate solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula,” according to a statement carried in the Chinese state-run media. The language indicated China wants to push forward with a diplomatic proposal for North Korea that the Trump administration has brushed aside.

The Chinese statement urged the “relevant sides” — a reference to North Korea and the United States — to “avoid words and actions that exacerbate tensions.” It did not explicitly criticize North Korea, which issued its own searing rhetoric all week, including a threat against Guam, and did not draw a clear distinction between Washington and Pyongyang.

In its own account of the call, the White House emphasized points of concurrence. “President Trump and President Xi agreed North Korea must stop its provocative and escalatory behavior,” read a statement from the White House issued early Saturday morning. “The presidents also reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

If Mr. Trump was trying to move Mr. Xi toward bolder action against the North, he did so while the Chinese leader is preoccupied with his own domestic political machinations, attending to a once-every-five-year political shake-up in the top ranks of the Communist Party.

Mr. Xi is believed to be at the beach resort at Beidaihe on the coast east of Beijing, where the leadership conducts a secretive retreat every summer, sometimes emerging casually dressed in open neck shirts and Windbreakers for photographs on the strip of sand along the beachfront.

The final stages of the political process to win Mr. Xi’s favor for a place on the standing committee of the party, now a seven-member body that makes the final decisions on the nation’s affairs, is underway among the resort’s villas and hotels, China’s political analysts said.

The selection will be unveiled at a national congress in Beijing sometime between September and November. Until then, almost all other matters, including foreign policy, are put on hold, the analysts said.

Still, the leadership has been vexed that the Trump administration has paid scant attention to China’s proposal for a “freeze for freeze” solution to North Korea. Described many times by China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, the notion calls for North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program at current levels in exchange for the United States drawing down military exercises off the Korean Peninsula.

So far, the United States has dismissed the proposal as a nonstarter. Instead, to China’s irritation, the United States is looking to increase missile defenses in South Korea. In some respects, though, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has tried to please Beijing by pledging that Washington does not seek to overthrow the North Korean leader, and does not plan to send American troops north of the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea.

Mr. Xi is said to be exasperated with Kim Jong-un, a leader much his junior, whom he openly disparaged during his meetings in Florida in April with Mr. Trump, American officials say. But despite the frustration with Mr. Kim, China still prefers to have what it considers a relatively stable North Korea under Mr. Kim rather than a collapsed state that could result in a united Korean Peninsula on its border, with American troops in control.

In rebuffing the “freeze for freeze” proposal, Washington has raised suspicions in Beijing about its true intentions, said Yun Sun, a China expert at the Stimson Center in Washington. Chinese leaders believe the United States sees its true rival as China, a mammoth economy, and not North Korea, one of the poorest countries on earth, Ms. Sun said. In this estimation, Washington is merely using North Korea to mount a military containment strategy around China, she said.

“The Chinese operate from the conviction that China remains and will always be the No. 1 strategic threat to the U.S., so the issue of North Korea will be used against China — through sanctions, provocations and everything else,” she said. China was also annoyed, Ms. Sun said, that the United States refuses to discuss a “grand bargain” or “end game” on the future of the Korean Peninsula. Of most interest to China, she said, is the future disposition of American forces in South Korea, now standing at 28,500 troops.

The phone conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi will be followed by a visit from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who is expected in Beijing on Monday. General Dunford will also visit South Korea and Japan.

The general’s visit, planned earlier this summer, is the first by a senior American official to Beijing since Mr. Tillerson met with Mr. Xi in March.

Much of the diplomacy between China and the United States has been conducted between Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the Chinese ambassador in Washington, Cui Tiankai. Those talks have concentrated on Mr. Cui’s efforts to stave off punishing trade tariffs against China that are gathering momentum in White House discussions.

During his two-day visit, General Dunford is likely to use the opportunity to drive home arguments for the Chinese to put more pressure on the Kim government, said Brian McKeon, who was a senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration.

A major point of dispute will likely be American plans to deploy more missile defenses in South Korea, he said. China vehemently opposes the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad, that has already been deployed in South Korea, calling it a threat to its own security.

“I would expect that Dunford will make the usual request that they put more pressure on the regime to behave, and to recognize that Kim’s actions threatens our core interests, which means we will have to continue to take measures that Beijing doesn’t like, for example the deployment of Thaad,” Mr. McKeon said.

Kushner to Meet With Mideast Leaders in Latest Attempt at Peace Deal

August 12, 2017

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will soon travel to the Middle East for yet another foray into trying to forge a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the most difficult diplomatic assignments of the Trump administration.

Mr. Kushner, who traveled to the region in June, will be accompanied on the trip by Jason Greenblatt, a special representative for international negotiations, and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser. No date was announced.

The three will hold meetings with leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said a White House official. The discussions will focus on resolving the impediments to peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, but will also cover combating extremism, the official said.

That topic could take Mr. Kushner even deeper into territory generally reserved for Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. A bitter feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over how to combat extremism has split the Gulf Cooperation Council, putting a host of American priorities in the region at risk. Mr. Tillerson spent hours on the phone and days on the ground in the Middle East recently in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the standoff, which led Saudi Arabia and three other Arab states to slap an embargo on Qatar.

Mr. Tillerson’s efforts were repeatedly undermined by Mr. Trump, who largely sided with the Saudis. A frustrated Mr. Tillerson said he had set aside the matter, but Mr. Kushner’s wading into the issue could cause tensions in an administration already rived by internal disputes.

In most administrations, crucial diplomatic efforts are given to the secretary of state, but Mr. Trump gave the task of forging a Middle East peace deal to Mr. Kushner, who is also expected to focus on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

By talking to multiple players in the region, Mr. Kushner may be hoping to recruit Arab countries to offer outlines of a deal that would be difficult for either the Israelis or Palestinians to reject, known as the “outside-in” approach.

Mr. Kushner was criticized when he said in a talk given to interns, which was later leaked, that he did not want to focus on the region’s complex history. “We don’t want a history lesson,” Mr. Kushner said. “We’ve read enough books.”

Many in the region see their history as crucial to the dispute as well as any resolution, so critics saw the remarks as a sign of inexperience.

Among the challenges Mr. Kushner could confront on the trip are the myriad legal problems facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, which have begun to threaten his political standing.

Latest Korean Standoff May Lack an Off-Ramp

August 10, 2017

History says Pyongyang will back down, but experts worry this time is different; ‘neither side has any incentive to make the first concession’

South Korean and U.S. Marines drilling together in March of 2016. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula reliably rise during the two militaries’ joint exercises—such as the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills, expected to start around Aug. 21—which Seoul and Washington say are defensive and Pyongyang says are rehearsals for an invasion.
South Korean and U.S. Marines drilling together in March of 2016. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula reliably rise during the two militaries’ joint exercises—such as the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills, expected to start around Aug. 21—which Seoul and Washington say are defensive and Pyongyang says are rehearsals for an invasion. PHOTO: KIM JUN-BUM/ASSOCIATED PRESS


Updated Aug. 10, 2017 11:01 a.m. ET

SEOUL—When North Korea has made military threats in recent times, it has usually sought an off-ramp before tensions could spill over into armed conflict.

But the current standoff—U.S. President Donald Trump warning North Korea of “fire and fury,” Pyongyang declaring its intention to send missiles into the waters off Guam, site of a U.S. military base—could extend for weeks or months, security experts and scholars say.

Unlike in the past, North Korea is near having the plausible ability to strike the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons.

The exchange of threats comes at a particularly delicate moment on the Korean Peninsula, less than two weeks before a planned joint military exercise by the U.S. and its allies in South Korea. The annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills, expected to start around Aug. 21 and usually lasting about two weeks, incense North Korea. A spokeswoman for the U.S. military in South Korea declined to comment on the exercises beyond saying they are “regularly scheduled” drills.

On the North Korean side, the general leading the country’s missile program is set in “mid-August” to present leader Kim Jong Un with a specific plan for the simultaneous launch of four intermediate-range missiles toward Guam, according to a North Korean state media report on Thursday. Separately, there are concerns that Pyongyang could answer the latest United Nations Security Council sanctions with another nuclear test or a long-range missile launch.

“Neither side has any incentive to make the first concession,” said Jung Kim, a professor of political science at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “At least for one or two months, we’ll see this game of chicken continue.”

While the U.S. and South Korea say that the drills are defensive, meant to fine-tune operations between the two allied militaries, North Korea calls them rehearsals for invasion. That perception could heightened if the U.S. deploys strategic assets such as aircraft carriers or sends nuclear-capable bombers to the Korean Peninsula. Tensions spiked during the countries’ springtime joint exercises, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, after Mr. Trump said that he was sending an “armada” to the Korean Peninsula.

“I’m concerned about inadvertent escalation as we enter into the season of planned U.S.-South Korea military exercises,” said John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at Harvard University’s Belfer Center. Another round of threats of force from Mr. Trump and North Korea’s state news agency—so presumably from Mr. Kim—would make miscommunication and miscalculation much more likely, he said.

“Almost 24 hours elapsed before we saw a concerted effort in the Trump administration to dial back and qualify the president’s ‘fire and fury’ comment,” Mr. Park noted.

North Korea’s neighbor China, its most important ally, frequently calls on the U.S. and South Korea to desist with the drills to lower tensions.

Usually expressed via threatening public statements from both sides, tensions have flared many times in the past, only to subside.

In 2013, North Korea suspended work at a joint inter-Korean industrial park and warned foreign diplomats to leave Pyongyang as it threatened missile strikes on U.S. Pacific bases, including in Guam and Hawaii. In August 2015, Pyongyang told Seoul it would attack in 48 hours unless South Korea ceased propaganda broadcasts over loudspeakers at the demilitarized zone separating the two countries. Seoul had resumed the broadcasts after two of its soldiers were maimed in a mine explosion that it blamed on the North.

Recent news reports indicate North Korea may have succeeded in building a nuclear warhead that can fit atop of one of the regime’s intercontinental missiles. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib examines what that means for the U.S., where President Donald Trump Tuesday threatened Pyongyang with ‘fire and fury.’ Photo: AP

Both times, North Korea backed down.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul, said launching missiles toward Guam would be so provocative that Pyongyang is unlikely to deliver on that threat.

Still, this time could be different. With less certainty about the U.S. approach under President Donald Trump, scholars and security experts see a higher possibility of miscalculation on either side.

North Korean missiles landing in Guam’s territorial waters would sow chaos. “Is that an act of war? This is pretty frightening. What would be the response at that point?” said Don Manzullo, president and chief executive officer of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington and a former U.S. congressman.

“The added risk this year is at the rhetorical level—how the perennial North Korean provocations are perceived in the White House,” said Adam Mount, senior fellow with the left-leaning Center for American Progress think tank in Washington. “At that level, there is again a serious risk of escalation.”

North Korea may also be trying new tactics, now that it has missiles capable of reaching prominent U.S. military targets. The threat to Andersen Air Force Base on Guam may be aimed at persuading the U.S. to stop sending its B-1B bombers stationed there on flyovers of the Korean Peninsula, as it has several times this year.

“It’s interesting to me that this threat was aimed at the B-1B flights rather than the exercises,” Mr. Mount said. “My guess is they’re testing out this new model of coercive threat.”

Corrections & Amplifications 

Don Manzullo is a former U.S. congressman and president and chief executive officer of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington. An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled his last name. (Aug. 10)

Write to Jonathan Cheng at


North Korea forms plans to target Guam within days as it dismisses Donald Trump’s threats as ‘nonsense’

August 10, 2017

People walk by a TV screen showing a local news program reporting with an image of U.S. President Donald Trump at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.
People walk by a TV screen showing a local news program reporting with an image of U.S. President Donald Trump at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday. PHOTO: LEE JIN-MAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

By Nick Allen, Nicola Smith and Julian Ryall

North Korea declared on Thursday it would have a plan ready by “mid-August” to launch four missiles into waters near the US territory of Guam, as it branded Donald Trump’s threats as “nonsense”.

With tensions between the US and Kim Jong-un’s rogue state escalating,  critics accused Mr Trump of inflaming the situation with “reckless” sabre-rattling.

Dismissing his threats as “a load of nonsense”, the rogue state ridiculed the US president as a “guy bereft of reason” and said only “absolute force can work on him”.

The statement from North Korean General Kim Rak Gyom said North Korea would produce a plan to fire four Hwasong-12 rockets more then 2,000 miles over Japan to “hit the waters 30 to 40 km away from Guam”.

Image may contain: 1 person, hat

North Korean General Kim Rak Gyom

The plan would be presented to leader Kim Jong-un who would make a decision on whether to proceed. The statement added: “We will keep closely watching the speech and behaviour of…

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North Korea details Guam missile plan, calls Trump’s warning a ‘load of nonsense’


SEOUL/GUAM (Reuters) – North Korea dismissed as a “load of nonsense” warnings by U.S. President Donald Trump that it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States, and outlined on Thursday detailed plans for a missile strike near the Pacific territory of Guam.

North Korea’s apparently rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland has fueled tensions that erupted into a war of words between Washington and Pyongyang this week, unnerving regional powers and global investors.

Trump’s unexpected remarks prompted North Korea to say on Thursday it was finalizing plans to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land 30-40 km (18-25 miles) from Guam, adding detail to a plan first announced on Wednesday.

Guam, more than 3,000 km (2,000 miles) to the southeast of North Korea, is home to about 163,000 people and a U.S. Navy base that includes a submarine squadron and a Coast Guard group, and an air base.

“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” a report by the North’s state-run KCNA news agency said of Trump.

The army will complete its plans in mid-August, ready for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s order, KCNA reported, citing General Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army.

While North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its allies, the report was unusual in its detail.

Masao Okonogi, professor emeritus at Japan’s Keio University, said before the latest KCNA report that Pyongyang may be issuing a warning or advance notice of changes to its missile testing program rather than threatening an attack.

“I believe this is a message saying they plan to move missile tests from the Sea of Japan to areas around Guam,” he told Reuters. “By making this advance notice, they are also sending a tacit message that what they are going to do is not a actual attack.”

Experts said the detail provided by North Korea made it likely it would follow through with its plans to avoid being seen as weak or lacking in resolve.


Guam Governor Eddie Calvo said there was no heightened threat from North Korea.

“They like to be unpredictable, they’ll pop a missile off when no one is ready and they’ve done it quite a few times,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“They’re now telegraphing their punch, which means they don’t want to have any misunderstandings. I think that’s a position of fear,” he said.

Lee Choon-geun, senior research fellow at South Korea’s state-run Science and Technology Policy Institute, said there was a risk that any missile could land much closer to Guam than planned.


“The United States will consider it an apparent attack if it lands within its territorial waters and, given the risks involved, will most likely try to shoot them down before they land anywhere close to Guam and its territorial sea,” Lee told Reuters.

“This could elevate the threats to an unprecedented level.”

The U.S. Seventh Fleet currently has six Aegis ballistic missile defense ships in the region capable of targeting North Korean missiles, and Japan has a further four. Guam also has a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, similar to the that recently installed in South Korea.

Japan could legally intercept a North Korean missile headed toward Guam, its defense minister said on Thursday, but experts believe Japan does not currently have the capability to do so.

The United States and South Korea remain technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

Slideshow (26 Images)

Tension in the region has risen since North Korea carried out two nuclear bomb tests last year and two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July. Trump has said he will not allow Pyongyang to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a stark warning on Wednesday, telling Pyongyang it would lose any arms race or conflict.

“The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people,” Mattis said in a statement, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Washington has warned it is ready to use force if needed to stop North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs but that it prefers global diplomatic action. The U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday.


In a video of a rally in Pyongyang released by KCNA, Pak Hyong Ryol, the manager of a Pyongyang cornstarch factory, said North Koreans did not mind any kind of sanctions.

“They cannot stop our advance. This is the answer of our heroic Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il working class which has been grown up under the warm care of the Party,” Pak said, referring to North Korea’s first two leaders.

North Korea accuses Washington of devising a “preventive war” and has said any plans to execute this would be met with an “all-out war, wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the U.S. mainland”.

China, North Korea’s main ally, has consistently urged both sides to work to lower tensions.

Influential Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times said the North Korean nuclear issue was heading toward confrontation and it was time for the United States to respond to Pyongyang’s security concerns.

“North Korea has almost been completely isolated by the outside world. Under such extreme circumstances, Pyongyang will weigh all its possible options,” it said in an editorial on its website on Thursday. “Washington should stimulate Pyongyang’s desire to engage with the outside world and return to the international community.”

Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Susan Heavey and John Walcott in WASHINGTON, Soyoung Kim in SEOUL, William Mallard, Tim Kelly, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Linda Sieg in TOKYO, and John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait

Trump Boasts U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Is ‘More Powerful Than Ever’

August 10, 2017

President’s Twitter comments follow North Korea’s threat that it was considering firing missiles at Guam

People walk by a TV screen showing a local news program reporting with an image of U.S. President Donald Trump at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.
People walk by a TV screen showing a local news program reporting with an image of U.S. President Donald Trump at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday. PHOTO: LEE JIN-MAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Trump administration on Wednesday sought to keep pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear ambitions, while also moving to lessen the alarm President Donald Trump sparked a day earlier when he threatened Pyongyang with attack.

North Korea on Thursday morning local time said “sound dialogue is not possible” with Mr. Trump and repeated the threat it made a day earlier to fire at the U.S.’s Pacific territory of Guam, saying it could surround Guam in “enveloping fire” by launching four intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missiles at the island. Pyongyang said the missiles would land about 20 miles offshore and could be launched as soon as mid-August.

In a series of statements, U.S. administration officials took a step back from Mr. Trump’s threat to hit North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” but stood by a warning of serious retaliation should North Korean leader Kim Jong Un strike the U.S. or its allies.

Mr. Trump touted the strength of the American nuclear arsenal in a message Wednesday morning on Twitter from his resort in Bedminster, N.J., but he tempered his rhetoric from the previous day.

“Hopefully we will never have to use this power,” Mr. Trump wrote, “but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”

My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before….

…Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!

The White House also said Mr. Trump was using his own words when he made the “fire and fury” remarks on Tuesday, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president discussed the “tone and strength” of the message beforehand with advisers including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

When asked if Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was aware of the remarks beforehand, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the secretary of state spoke with the president “after the fact.”

Sources: South Korea Ministry of National Defense, Union of Concerned Scientists (ranges); (bases)

Mr. Tillerson on Wednesday also looked to defuse the tension, stating that Mr. Trump’s “fire and fury” comment didn’t indicate the U.S. was moving toward a preemptive military attack on North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons and missile program.

The secretary of state instead championed the diplomatic effort to pressure North Korea into disarmament talks.

U.S. on North Korea: ‘We’re Speaking With One Voice’
At a State Department press conference on Wednesday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert responded to questions regarding President Donald Trump’s blunt warning to North Korea, in which he said the country’s threats would be “met with fire and fury.” Photo: AP

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006. What has worried U.S. officials most in recent months, though, is the rapid progression of the country’s program to field intercontinental ballistic missiles—long-range weapons that would allow North Korea to rocket warheads through the atmosphere to hit the continental U.S.

North Korea conducted its first ICBM test on July 4 and followed up with a second ICBM test on July 28 that experts said put the continental U.S. firmly in range of a strike.

U.S. officials believe the country has the capability to produce a nuclear warhead small enough to travel atop a missile. But they also think North Korea faces technical hurdles before such a warhead can withstand travel through the Earth’s atmosphere on an ICBM.

Mr. Tillerson said the president’s provocative message on Tuesday came in response to threatening statements Mr. Kim’s government made after the United Nations Security Council hit Pyongyang with new sanctions as punishment for its aggressive testing program.

“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Is North Korea Close to Being a Nuclear Weapons State?
Recent news reports indicate North Korea may have succeeded in building a nuclear warhead that can fit atop of one of the regime’s intercontinental missiles. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib examines what that means for the U.S., where President Donald Trump Tuesday threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury.” Photo: AP

The secretary of state also sought to reassure the public. “Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days,” Mr. Tillerson said in Guam on his way back from a trip to Asia, adding that an attack on the island by North Korea was not imminent.

The top diplomat’s efforts to dial down the rhetoric left it to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to keep up the pressure by reaffirming his confidence that the American military would prevail over Mr. Kim’s regime in the event of any attack on the U.S.

Mr. Mattis warned North Korea that it is “grossly overmatched” by the U.S. and its allies and “would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”

North Korea, Mr. Mattis said, needs to “stand down in in its pursuit of nuclear weapons” and “cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

North Korea, meanwhile, stepped up its rhetoric on Thursday morning.

“The U.S. president at a [golf] links again let out a load of nonsense about ‘fire and fury,’ failing to grasp the on-going grave situation,” the official statement said, making a reference to Mr. Trump’s warning against North Korea from the clubhouse of his golf​course on Tuesday. “This is extremely getting on the nerves of the infuriated Hwasong artillerymen.”

The tensions rattled financial markets world-wide on Wednesday, interrupting a stock-market rally fueled by corporate earnings and global economic growth. Declines in the U.S. were relatively mild, but they came during what has been a placid stretch for markets. The Stoxx Europe 600 fell 0.7%, while South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index fell 1.1%.

China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t address pressure from the Trump administration to be more active in reining in its ally in Pyongyang, calling the situation “complicated and sensitive.” It appealed for calm and an early resumption of dialogue, as it usually does when tensions climb on the Korean Peninsula.

In an editorial published online Wednesday night, the populist, state-owned tabloid Global Times condemned Mr. Trump’s remarks, saying they threatened to exacerbate matters.

“Now that President Trump has used a strong metaphor like ‘fire and fury,’ the North Korean nuclear train, going through a dark cave, will continue to run forward towards an even darker destination,” said the tabloid, which is published by the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily.

The alarming tenor of Mr. Trump’s remarks on Tuesday—which came two days after his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the U.S. was preparing for the possibility of “preventive war” with North Korea—overshadowed Mr. Tillerson’s efforts to lay the groundwork for negotiations with Pyongyang by pressuring the regime and gaining cooperation from China.

Before leaving for Asia last week, Mr. Tillerson announced in Washington that the U.S. wasn’t seeking a regime change in North Korea and didn’t plan to invade the country but that Pyongyang was presenting an unacceptable threat to Washington that required a response.

“We hope that at some point, they will begin to understand that and that we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek and the future economic prosperity for North Korea, but that will then promote economic prosperity throughout Northeast Asia,” Mr. Tillerson said Aug. 1.

Those comments contrasted starkly with suggestions about preemptive action that both Mr. Trump and Mr. McMaster raised subsequently.

“For those who do nuclear strategy, two parties that are talking about preemption simultaneously—that is the definition of instability,” said Stephan Haggard, director of the Korea-Pacific Program at the University of California San Diego.

The contrast led to a perception in some quarters that members of the Trump administration were reading from different scripts, risking a misinterpretation of the U.S.’s position in Pyongyang.

The State Department spokeswoman, Ms. Nauert, said that perception didn’t reflect reality. “I think the United States is all talking with one voice,” she said.

In brief comments to journalists during a trip to Seattle on Wednesday, Mr. Mattis said the goal of American policy isn’t merely to contain North Korea’s existing and growing nuclear program, but to roll it back and produce a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. That goal, he said, is shared by South Korea, China and Japan as well.

The distinction is important because some analysts have argued that the U.S. may have to accept and merely contain the nuclear program North Korea has built to this point, while others argue that the goal should be to roll it back.

Write to Paul Sonne at, Louise Radnofsky at and Jonathan Cheng at

Appeared in the August 10, 2017, print edition as ‘North Korea, U.S. Clash Sharpens.’

Tillerson in Thailand to press junta on North Korea ties

August 8, 2017


© AFP / by Sally MAIRS | Rex Tillerson, the highest level American diplomat to visit Thailand since a 2014 coup, met Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai in Bangkok

BANGKOK (AFP) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson landed in Bangkok on Tuesday with a plea to the kingdom to curb business ties with North Korea, as Washington rounds up allies for its bid to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

Tillerson is the highest level American diplomat to visit Thailand since a 2014 coup strained ties between the longtime friends and saw China cosy up to Bangkok with massive military sales and infrastructure deals.

Thailand is one of a raft of Southeast Asian countries that hosts a North Korean embassy and enjoys valuable bilateral trade with the reclusive regime.


In 2014 the two countries shared trade worth $126 million, according to Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, nearly a three-fold increase since 2009.

America’s top diplomat will press Thailand to crack down on North Korean firms that open fronts in Bangkok and use the capital as a trading hub, said acting US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Susan Thornton.

He will also lean on the kingdom to tighten visa requirements for North Koreans entering Thailand and squeeze its diplomatic mission, Thornton added.

Tillerson’s one-day visit follows a regional forum in Manila, where the former ExxonMobil CEO hailed a tough new UN sanctions regime on North Korea over its growing nuclear arsenal.

Those sanctions could cost North Korea $1 billion a year.

They were levied — with the agreement of North Korean lifeline China — in response to the launch of two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month.

– ‘Ups and downs’ –

The US envoy will also urge Thailand to take in more North Korean refugees, said Thornton.

The kingdom has long been a transit route for defectors who make the arduous journey through China, then into Laos or Cambodia and Thailand, where they seek sanctuary at the South Korean Embassy.

Thailand does not grant official status to refugees.

After landing in Bangkok Tillerson, who visited Thailand often as an executive for ExxonMobil, told US embassy staff he wanted to “grow” the relationship between America and its oldest Asian ally, “even in its ups and downs”.

President Donald Trump’s administration is reshaping America’s approach to the Thai junta after relations hit the buffers following the 2014 coup.

The US condemned the takeover and distanced itself from the regime, trimming back military aid.

But relations are on a better footing under Trump, with the US president extending an invitation to junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha.

The thaw also comes amid Washington’s growing concerns over rival superpower China’s clout in the region.

Beijing entices its smaller neighbours by offering massive investment decoupled from human rights concerns, which appeals to leaders weary of US pressure.

Thailand is a lynchpin country in China’s massive trade and infrastructure ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy.

It was not immediately clear how firmly the former oilman would push the junta government on its crackdown on political rights.

The US wants Thailand to “emerge as a strengthened democracy that respects and guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms,” said US embassy spokesperson Steve Castonguay.

Tillerson is also due to pay respects to Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been lying in state at the Grand Palace since his death in October 2016.

Later he will travel to the Malaysian capital.

by Sally MAIRS

Tillerson in Thailand as U.S. ties improve — Thailand hopes to get off Trump’s trade hit list

August 8, 2017


By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

‘I’m Your Humble Friend’, Philippines’ Anti-U.S. Leader Tells Tillerson

August 7, 2017

MANILA — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called himself a “humble friend” of the United States on Monday, taking a break from his notorious hostility towards Washington to grant a warm reception to visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Duterte’s often profanity-laden tirades against the United States has become his trademark during his year-old presidency, but he appeared happy to meet Tillerson, who was in Manila to attend a regional security meeting dominated by North Korea’s missile tests, and maritime squabbles.

“I am happy to see you … and you have come at a time when the world is not so good, especially in the Korean peninsula, and of course, the ever nagging problem of South China Sea,” Duterte told Tillerson at the presidential palace.

“I know you’re worried there, because you also have domestic problems … We are friends. We are allies,” said Duterte.

“I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia,” he said.

President Duterte greets US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prior to their meeting at Malacañang yesterday on the sidelines of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional security forum. KRIZJOHN ROSALES

The maverick leader makes no attempt to hide his grudge against the United States, which he has repeatedly chided for what he says is a history of hypocritical foreign policy, and for treating the Philippines like a dog.

He last year announced to China his “separation” from Washington, has complained about being given “hand-me-down” U.S. military hardware, and once invited American investors jittery about his remarks to pack their bags and leave.

But Duterte’s biggest anger was directed at former President Barack Obama, whose administration spoke out against his signature war on drugs, a fierce crackdown that has killed thousands of Filipinos.

Duterte’s warm words for Tillerson indicates Philippines-U.S. ties under U.S. President Donald Trump may be in better shape.

Though Duterte still vents about Washington, he has spoken positively about Trump, who praised him for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem”.

Trump in an April phone call told Duterte he would invite him to the White House.

But when a U.S. lawmaker recently said he would try to block that, Duterte said he would never go to the United States because “I’ve seen America and it’s lousy”.

Duterte said he and Tillerson discussed “many things” on Monday, but he did not give details.

The defense treaty alliance between the two countries remains strong and U.S. forces have been providing the Philippines with technical assistance to fight militants allied with Islamic State. He last year repeatedly threatened to eject U.S. military trainers and advisers.

Asked prior to his meeting if helping the Philippine military meant the United States was endorsing the government’s bloody anti-drugs campaign, Tillerson said the two were unrelated.

“I see no conflict, no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of other human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counternarcotics activities,” he said.

(Editing by Martin Petty and Richard Balmforth)


DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The visiting US official did not raise human rights issues while President Duterte called himself a “humble friend” of Washington.

Counterterrorism, not civil liberties, was on the agenda as President Duterte met yesterday with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at Malacañang.

This was contrary to earlier reports that Tillerson would raise human rights concerns in his talks with Duterte.

And despite his previous tirades against the US, the President called himself a “humble friend” of Washington during his meeting with Tillerson.

Tillerson, in the country for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, paid a courtesy call on Duterte at 5:20 p.m. Their meeting lasted for about an hour.

“I’m your humble friend in Southeast Asia,” Duterte told Tillerson at the start of their meeting at the Malacañang anteroom.

While the Philippines and the US have had an uneasy relationship since he assumed office last year, Duterte said the two countries are “friends and allies.”

Sources said the President initially did not want to meet with Tillerson and it was only on Sunday evening that he agreed to an audience with the US official.

The President refused to divulge the details of his discussion with Tillerson, except that part of the conversation was on terrorism.

“No, no. There were no talks on human rights concerns,” the President said in a press briefing after the meeting with Tillerson.

Tillerson arrived in Manila for the biggest security meeting in Asia and met with Duterte on the sidelines of his engagements while in the country.

Sources said Duterte and Tillerson discussed matters such as the siege by Islamic State group-linked Maute militants in Marawi City, the growing threat of international terrorism and the tension in the Korean Peninsula.

Duterte and Tillerson reportedly also talked about governance and about how to increase America’s economic and other kinds of people-to-people engagement with the Philippines.

“I am happy to see you again and you have come at a time when the world is not so good, especially in the Korean Peninsula, and of course, the ever nagging problem of South China Sea,” Duterte told Tillerson.

“I know you’re worried there because you also have domestic problems,” he added.

The US under former president Barack Obama had criticized Duterte’s war on illegal drugs and has urged the Philippine leader to uphold human rights in all law enforcement efforts.

Duterte lashed back by saying that the US has no moral ascendancy to lecture on human rights because of its alleged atrocities during the wars in Iraq, the Vietnam War and the Philippine-American War.

When Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential race, Duterte expressed optimism that he would be able to get along well with the incoming American leader because of their similarities.

Cayetano thanks Tillerson

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano thanked Tillerson for his participation in the meetings in Manila.

Tillerson underscored US commitment to the relationship with ASEAN, including people-to-people and educational programs.

He held a trilateral meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. – With Alexis Romero, Pia Lee-Brago

U.S., Russia Must ‘Deal With’ Conflict, Tillerson Says

August 7, 2017

Secretary of state says U.S. will respond to expulsion of diplomats by Sept. 1

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, second from right, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Sunday.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, second from right, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Sunday. PHOTO: US DEPARTMENT OF STATE HANDOUT/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Updated Aug. 7, 2017 5:09 a.m. ET

MANILA—U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russia’s foreign minister that the U.S. would respond to that country’s recent expulsion of American diplomats by Sept. 1 and that the nations must confront the distrust created by Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

Mr. Tillerson, speaking with journalists Monday at an Asian regional security conference in the Philippines, said that he told his Russian counterpart in a meeting a day earlier that he wanted Russia to “understand just how serious this incident had been and how seriously it had damaged the relationship between…the American people and the Russian people.”

He told Russia that “We simply have to find some way to deal with that,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Mr. Tillerson and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov got together Sunday for an hour in a much-anticipated meeting on the sidelines of the conference following a spell of increasing acrimony over sanctions against Russia adopted by the U.S. Congress and reluctantly signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the meeting began with Mr. Lavrov explaining the reasoning behind Russia’s decision to expel U.S. diplomats. The decision came “after a long wait for the U.S. not to go down the path of confrontation. But, unfortunately, Russophobic members of Congress prevented that from happening,” the ministry said.

The ministers discussed a range of global issues, including cybersecurity, North Korea, Syria and Ukraine, the ministry said.

The sanctions were intended to punish Russia after the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Moscow had sought to interfere in the election, which Mr. Trump won. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by saying the U.S. would have to cut 755 diplomats and staff in the country by September.

Mr. Tillerson said Monday that he asked Mr. Lavrov several clarifying questions about that move, and promised a U.S. response by Sept. 1.

Mr. Trump, who has said that relations between the powers are at “an all-time low,” has publicly questioned the intelligence findings on the election and dismissed investigations by Congress and a Justice Department special prosecutor into the matter. Russia has denied meddling in the election.

Mr. Tillerson said Mr. Lavrov indicated “some willingness” to resolve tensions over Ukraine. The countries have been in conflict since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and Russian-backed separatists started a war in the eastern part of the country.

After the territory grab, the U.S. and the European Union imposed sanctions on Mosow, which Russia has tried unsuccessfully to have lifted. Mr. Trump, who has spoken favorably of the Russian leader, has called for the two countries to make peace.

Mr. Tillerson said the administration viewed the relationship with Russia with pragmatism.

“We want to work with them on areas that are of serious national security interest to us while at the same time having this extraordinary issue of mistrust that divides us,” Mr. Tillerson said. “That’s just what we in the diplomatic part of our relationship are required to do.”


Write to Ben Otto at