Top military, intelligence, and diplomatic officials counter Trump’s heated rhetoric on North Korea

In interviews and editorials, key figures in the Trump administration called for a diplomatic solution.

President Donald Trump speaks as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster listen at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Donald Trump speaks as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster listen at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

After a week that saw U.S. – North Korea tensions climbing thanks to President Donald Trump’s volley of escalating threats, his generals, top diplomat, and intelligence chief all used news outlets on Sunday to emphasize the need to seek a peaceful solution.

Most notable was the Wall Street Journal editorial by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis – the piece does not make mention of the president or his hardline “locked and loaded” rhetoric (the only time his name comes up is in reference to his administration).

Instead, Tillerson and Mattis use cool-headed language – the words diplomatic and diplomacy appear eights times in the editorial; peace and peaceful five times. Summing up their goal for how the United States can pressure North Korea into negotiations that would see Pyongyang dial back its missile program, they write:

The object of our peaceful pressure campaign is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. has no interest in regime change or accelerated reunification of Korea. We do not seek an excuse to garrison U.S. troops north of the Demilitarized Zone. We have no desire to inflict harm on the long-suffering North Korean people, who are distinct from the hostile regime in Pyongyang.

And even though National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo appeared to support Trump’s threatening language, they both tried to minimize concern that war with North Korea was imminent.

On CBS’s Face the Nation, Pompeo emphasized that, “An attack from North Korea is not something that is imminent,” while McMaster told ABC’s This Week that the United States is “no closer to war with North Korea” than any previous time. He, too, focused on diplomacy and sanctions to deescalate the situation.

“But we’re taking all possible actions short of military action to resolve,” he said. “And that includes a very, a very determined diplomatic effort led by our Secretary of State. And it also includes increasing sanctions, increasing pressure on the north, to convince Kim Jong-Un that this is not in his interest to continue this path of provocation and escalatory actions.”

On a trip that is meant to gauge the temperature with China, Japan, and South Korea, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford reiterated on Monday U.S. readiness for military action, but he stressed that the United States and its allies in the region are “looking to get out of this situation without a war.”

Reporting on Dunford’s trip, the Associated Press notes that South Korean President Moon Jae-in also said “there must not be another war on the Korean Peninsula.”

It will be interesting to see what Dunford finds in China, where President Xi Jinping has called for restraint in dealing with North Korea.

Trade and foreign policy analysts do not believe that China will fully enforce the U.N. sanctions on trade with North Korea. The sanctions are supposed to go into effect on Tuesday.

In a move that could be a warning shot fired at China, Trump is expected to sign an order later on Monday asking for an investigation into whether the country’s trade practices unfairly force U.S. companies doing business there to turn over intellectual property.

Reuters reports that this could “lead to steep tariffs on Chinese goods…at a time when Trump has asked China to do more to crack down on North Korea’s nuclear missile program as he threatens possible military action against Pyongyang.”

A Monday editorial in the China Daily blasted Trump’s decision, saying the United States was expecting too much of China:

By trying to incriminate Beijing as an accomplice in the DPRK’s nuclear adventure and blame it for a failure that is essentially a failure of all stakeholders, Trump risks making the serious mistake of splitting up the international coalition that is the means to resolve the issue peacefully

Meanwhile, echoing the worries of U.S. analysts, commentary on official North Korean news agency KCNA said that “war cannot be blocked by any power if sparks fly due to a small, random incident that was unintentional.”