U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Wednesday said Washington was “never” without diplomatic options on North Korea, in contrast with President Donald Trump’s remarks made on Twitter earlier in the day.
The former general made the remarks during a meeting with new South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo at the Pentagon, during which the two sides discussed further ways to cooperate on the DPRK.
“We are never out of diplomatic solutions,” Mattis said. “The (South Korean defense) minister and I share a responsibility to provide for the protection of our nations, our populations and our interests, which is what we are here to discuss.”
But Mattis’ remarks seemed to strike a different tone to others made by Trump Wednesday morning on Twitter. While characteristically light on details, the U.S. President implied dialogue was off the table.
“The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” Trump said.
Mattis’s comments seemed the latest in a set of contrasting signals from Trump and his high-level staffers in recent weeks and months.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Mattis often appeared to take more nuanced positions than Trump as tensions between Pyongyang and Washington spiraled earlier in the month.
“It’s still hard to discern if the Trump administration is working off a coordinated strategy or it is a collection of independent voices,” Ken Gause, a North Korea leadership specialist at the CNA Corporation, told NK News.
During his meeting with his South Korean counterpart, both sides again reaffirmed the alliance, though the meeting was light on concrete steps.
“Here in Washington, we are keenly aware that South Korea is on the front line and we are not complacent,” Mattis said to Song.
The meeting – Song’s first trip abroad since taking the position in June – comes two days after the North’s most recent missile test, during which the DPRK fired a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile across Japanese airspace.
The North Korean government announced a day later the launch was a response to ongoing annual military exercises between U.S. and South Korea.
Edited by Oliver Hotham