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Tillerson: Diplomacy with North Korea to continue until 'first bomb drops'

By Sarah N. Lynch

October 15. 2017 8:57PM
President Donald Trump walks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to greet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House on Wednesday. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday that President Donald Trump had instructed him to continue diplomatic efforts to calm rising tensions with North Korea, saying “those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.”

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Tillerson downplayed messages that President Trump had previously posted on Twitter suggesting Tillerson was wasting his time trying to negotiate with “Little Rocket Man,” a derogatory nickname Trump has coined for North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump “has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s comments Sunday come amid soaring tensions between the United States and North Korea following a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang and a war of words between the two countries’ leaders.

North Korea has conducted a series of nuclear tests in recent weeks and ago and launched two missiles over Japan.

Tillerson has been in talks with China to enlist its help on getting North Korea to back down.

But Trump’s recent Twitter messages appeared to undercut Tillerson’s efforts, prompting the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker to complain that Trump was publicly castrating Tillerson and hurting diplomatic talks.

Tillerson downplayed those tweets Sunday.

“I checked. I’m fully intact,” Tillerson quipped when asked about Corker’s comments on CNN.

Tillerson added that Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping have an extremely close relationship and that China understands the U.S. position.

“Rest assured that the Chinese are not confused in any way” about the American policy towards North Korea, he added.

Tillerson-Trump tensions?

On CNN, Tillerson minimized tensions with his boss.

“I am fully committed to his objectives. I agree with his objectives. I agree with what he is trying to do,” Tillerson said of Trump.

Tillerson repeatedly declined to answer a question about a report by NBC News that said the secretary of state had called Trump a “moron” during a private meeting in July with U.S. officials.

The secretary of state accused CNN moderator Jake Tapper of trying “make a game” out of pressing him on the “moron” comment.

“I’m not playing,” Tillerson said.

In addition to North Korea, Tillerson has often found himself at odds with the president on a range of issues, from withdrawing from the Paris agreement on climate change to, at times, Iran, according to current and former U.S. officials and news media reports.

Signs of tensions between Trump and Tillerson have raised questions among in foreign capitals about whether the secretary of state speaks for the administration.

Tillerson has batted away rumors that he might resign.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, has been mentioned as a possible replacement to Tillerson should he step down.

She said she was happy being in New York, where the United Nations is based, and said that from what she has observed Trump and Tillerson have a constructive relationship.

“The secretary puts out as many options for the president as he can. He makes a decision, there’s a mutual respect, and they go forward. And so everything that I have witnessed, all was fine,” she said.

Tillerson acknowledged in a separate appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he and the president “don’t agree on everything.”

“Sometimes he changes his mind,” Tillerson said.

“I will work as hard as I can to implement his decisions successfully.”

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