U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday said he read Steve Bannon’s admission that there is no military solution to the crisis with North Korea. But he stuck by the president’s policy and message.
“I don’t really have a comment on what Mr. Bannon’s remarks were on that particular interview. I read those,” Tillerson said in response to a question about thinking inside the administration about how to deal with North Korea. “I think we have been quite clear as to what the policy and posture against North Korea is.”
In a conversation published Wednesday by the American Prospect, Bannon undercut President Donald Trump’s threat to deliver “fire and fury” on Pyongyang if it threatened the United States.
“There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it,” Trump’s senior strategist told the American Prospect, a left-of-center publication, in a conversation Bannon has since said he did not know would be published.
“Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us,” he said.
Tillerson, who spoke Thursday in a State Department press conference with Secretary of Defense James Mattis and their Japanese counterparts, said his and Mattis’ approach to North Korea “has been endorsed by the president” and “is reviewed with him periodically.”
Like no American president before him, Trump has matched North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s traditionally bellicose rhetoric and helped ratchet up tension on the Korean peninsula. When asked about Bannon’s comments, the White House said Thursday his words “stand on their own.”
The two American officials published an oped last week in the Wall Street Journal proclaiming that the U.S. and the rest of the world were “united” in trying to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Tillerson and Mattis wrote that while diplomacy was preferred, “it is backed by military options.”
In his interview, Bannon also described efforts to sideline those in Tillerson’s and Mattis’ department working on Asia issues.
“I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in,” Bannon said. “I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.”
Tillerson said any diplomatic challenge the U.S. faces “has to be backed by a strong military consequence if North Korea chooses wrongly.”
“I think that is the message that the president has wanted to send to the leadership in North Korea,” Tillerson said.