Begging for Talks with Kim Jong Un Shows It's Time for Tillerson to Go

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

If we hope to avoid war with North Korea over its nuclear program, the regime in Pyongyang must be made to believe that President Trump is in fact, as he said at the UN, "ready, willing, and able" to take military action.

This is why Trump has used such bellicose rhetoric in recent months, warning North Korea's Kim Jong Un that he "is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime" and making clear that "the United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."

His message has rattled some, but that is its intent.

During the Cold War, Soviet leaders truly believed that Ronald Reagan was willing to launch a nuclear first strike—which is one of the reasons that a cataclysmic war never took place and historic arms reductions were negotiated instead.

Trump knows he will never get a diplomatic solution unless North Korea believes that he is ready to use force.

His Secretary of State, on the other hand, believes the best way to get North Korea to the bargaining table is to . . . beg.

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Donald Trump (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (right) at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Manila, Philippines, on November 14. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty

Speaking at an Atlantic Council event Tuesday, Rex Tillerson had this message for North Korea:

We've said from the diplomatic side we're ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk, and we're ready to have the first meeting without precondition.

Let's just meet. And we can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it's going to be a square table or a round table if that's what you're excited about.

But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face?

"Pretty please, with sugar on top?" he might have added.

Simply pathetic.

Tillerson's comments were immediately shot down by the White House, which issued a statement declaring that "clearly right now is not the time" for talks after Pyongyang's recent test launch of an ICBM last month.

This has led to more griping about how Trump is undermining Tillerson's efforts at diplomacy. In fact, it is the other way around.

It is Tillerson who, with his weak-kneed pleas to Pyongyang, is undermining Trump's efforts to get them to understand that he will use force, if necessary, to stop them from deploying a nuclear ICBM capable of destroying an American city.

If that message is not received and understood in Pyongyang, then they have no reason to pursue a diplomatic solution—because they believe that they can get what they want by continuing to do what they are doing. If they are not disabused of that notion, war will be more likely, if not inevitable.

The fact that Tillerson can't seem to grasp this—or get on the same page as his boss when it comes to messaging on North Korea—shows that his departure is way overdue.

Marc Thiessen is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). A member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush, Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Before joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC).

Begging for Talks with Kim Jong Un Shows It's Time for Tillerson to Go | Opinion
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