Tillerson in Seoul: U.S. has lost ‘strategic patience’ with Pyongyang

by WorldTribune Staff, March 17, 2017

“All options are on the table” in dealing with North Korea’s continued provocations, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during a visit to South Korea on March 17.

“Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, economic measures. All options are on the table,” Tillerson said.

A North Korean soldier (right) photographs U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Gen. Vincent K. Brooks at the DMZ on March 17. / Yonhap

The statement marked a clear cut departure from the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience” in which negotiations were canceled while North Korea continued to develop nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.

At a joint news conference with South Koran Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se, Tillerson also pressed China to end its economic retaliation against South Korea over Seoul’s deployment of the U.S.-made THAAD missile defense system.

China’s retribution is “unnecessary, inappropriate and troubling,” Tillerson said.

The secretary’s first Asia tour, during which he visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjom, also includes visits to Tokyo and Beijing.

Tillerson’s comments on North Korea represent the “strongest signal yet” that President Donald Trump’s administration will “take a much tougher stance” than former President Barack Obama’s “strategic patience policy,” the Korea Herald said in a March 17 report.

“Certainly we do not want for things to get to a military conflict, we’re quite clear on that in our communications, but obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that would be met with an appropriate response,” Tillerson said.

“If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table.”

Tillerson added that it is the threat from North Korea that “makes THAAD necessary.”

China’s economic retaliation against South Korea “is not the way for a regional power to help resolve what is a serious threat for everyone. So we hope China will alter its position on punishing South Korea,” Tillerson said.

“We hope they will work with us to eliminate the reason THAAD is required.”

Likely leftist contenders in line to replace impeached South Korean President Park Geun-Hye have have registered opposition to THAAD and favor “Sunshine” appeasement policies to placate China and North Korea.

Tillerson said the U.S. hopes for a “productive relationship” with the next government in Seoul, adding he hopes it will “continue to be supportive” of the THAAD deployment plan.

During a meeting with acting South Korean President Hwang Kyo-Ahn, Tillerson reaffirmed the two countries’ “ironclad” security partnership.

“I am here to express and reaffirm the ironclad alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea which serves as a linchpin for security and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

“I also want to stress the importance of our strong people-to-people ties, growing economic cooperation and, as you mentioned, our strong alliance for security in response to the growing threat from North Korea.”