During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis was pressed to explain President Donald Trump’s recent flurries of tweets that appeared to reject a diplomatic solution on North Korea.
In his opening remarks, Mattis posited that the Pentagon “supports fully” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ongoing “efforts to find a diplomatic solution [to the North Korean threat] but remains focused on defense of the United States and our allies.”
• Mattis testimony and clarification of Trump’s stand
A ranking member of the committee, Sen. Jack Reed(D-RI), said Mattis’ comments about the DOD supporting diplomatic efforts toward Pyongyang “does not seem to be translated to the president”, that Trump “has in several tweets suggested that Secretary Tillerson’s opening of [diplomatic] channels and preparing to discuss issues, directly and indirectly, is essentially a waste of time.”
Reed however asked Mattis, “How do you respond to those types of [tweets]. On one hand, you strongly support him (Tillerson), and on the other hand … the president is telling him to knock it off.”
The retired Marine Corps four star general subsequently responded that the president’s guidance to both him and Tillerson “has been very clearly that we would pursue the diplomatic effort,” which he said includes various initiatives with China along with economic sanctions aimed at the rogue pariah nation.
While still insisting that the “U.S. needs to “ensure we have military options”, Mattis termed the current approach to nuclear-armed North Korea “a dynamic balance as we try to go forward with a solution.”
• Trump and Tillerson’s statements indicates similar agenda
Mattis also said he believes Tillerson accurately stated that the U.S. “is probing for opportunities to talk with the North. All we’re doing is probing; we’re not talking with them” – an approach he assured is “consistent with the president’s dismay about not talking with them before the time is right, before they are willing to talk.”
“So I do not see the divergence as strongly as some have interpreted it,” Mattis argued.
The Senate’s unclear perspective was birthed by Tillerson’s approach and the conflicting assertions of Trump. The President tweeted on Sunday, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”
Trump “has a responsibility to ensure that we go into this with our eyes wide open,” said Mattis said, clarifying the confusions.