Tillerson finally speaks: 'The threat of North Korea is imminent'

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in his first sit-down interview since assuming his role as the nation's top diplomat, addressed a number of pressing issues regarding the US' role in the global order, the Korean peninsula, the precarious situation with North Korea, the US-China alliance, and his relationship with the press.

  • Tillerson said the US' main objective with regard to the east is a denuclearized Korean peninsula.
  • He also believes that based on recent actions taken by North Korea, the nation is "an imminent threat" that China needs to work with the US to combat.
  • The secretary of state articulated a the need for a "higher level of dialogue" between Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping.
  • Tillerson said that his relationship with the press would be "trip dependent" and that he is not a "big media press access person."
  • Regarding the revelation that he allegedly used an email alias to communicate with Exxon officials about the risks of climate change, Tillerson said he could not comment on it and that questions should be directed at Exxon Mobil.

RELATED: Inside North Korea's secretive missile program

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Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
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Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
A missile is carried by a military vehicle during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Engineers check the base of Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
A North Korean scientist looks at a monitor showing the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control centre of the Korean Committee of Space Technology on the outskirts of Pyongyang April 11, 2012. North Korea said on Wednesday it was injecting fuel into a long-range rocket ahead of a launch condemned by its neighbours and the West. The launch is set to take place between Thursday and next Monday and has prompted neighbours such as the Philippines to re-route their air traffic. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
North Korean soldiers salute in a military vehicle carrying a missile during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Ko Yun-hwa (L), Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's nuclear test, in Seoul, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Workers construct a new nuclear reactor in the North Korean village of Kumho in this file photo taken August 7, 2002. The United States urged North Korea December 21, 2002 not to restart a nuclear reactor suspected of being used to make weapons-grade plutonium. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that North Korea had disabled surveillance devices the agency had placed at the five-megawatt Nyongbyong reactor. REUTERS/Lee Jae-won/File Photo LJW/RCS/AA
A passenger walks past a television report on North Korea's nuclear test at a railway station in Seoul February 12, 2013. North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Tuesday, South Korea's defence ministry said, after seismic activity measuring 4.9 magnitude was registered by the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicentre of the seismic activity, which was only one km below the Earth's surface, was close to the North's known nuclear test site. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A scientist stands beside the Kwangmyongsong-3 application satellite, to be put onto the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
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During the start of the interview, conducted by the right-leaning Independent Journal Review, Tillerson addressed recent media reports that he cut his trip to South Korea short because of "fatigue."

"[The South Korean government] never invited us for dinner, then at the last minute they realized that optically it wasn't playing very well in public for them, so they put out a statement that we didn't have dinner because I was tired," Tillerson said.

"So are you saying they lied about it?" the interviewer asked.

"No, it was just their explanation," Tillerson replied. He continued, "The host country decides whether we are going to do things or not. We didn't decide that."

SEE ALSO: Trump: North Korea is 'behaving very badly,' and China 'has done little to help'

Regarding foreign policy, Tillerson stressed that the US' main objective is a denuclearized Korean peninsula, but that "circumstances [regarding North Korea] could evolve" to a point where the US may have to consider allowing South Korea and Japan to develop nuclear weapons.

For the moment, Tillerson said he hopes to de-escalate the conflict with North Korea by imposing strict sanctions on the rogue nation. In addition to imposing sanctions, he voiced the need for stronger cooperation between the US and China to deter North Korea from nuclearization.

"That has been China's stated policy for more than two decades — is a denuclearized Korean peninsula. They need to help solve this," Tillerson said.

While acknowledging that there are a broad range of issues that define the US-China relationship, Tillerson zeroed in on North Korea because "the threat of North Korea is imminent. And it has reached a level that we are very concerned about the consequences of North Korea being allowed to continue on this progress it's been making on the development of both weapons and delivery systems."

north koreaReuters

When asked what the US was willing to offer China in exchange for its cooperation, Tillerson said, "We're not going to share with you any of what we might be talking about relative to things that are important to China, things that are important to the US."

Tillerson said he believes the two powers are at a "historic moment, when pressed about how he would define the US' relationship with China,

"I do think because of what is happening globally with people in the world over — globalization itself — that we're at perhaps at an inflection point in the relationship of global powers in general," he said. He touched on the fact that there are "issues arising that have gone unresolved," perhaps in reference to Trump's claims about China engaging in currency manipulation and unfair trade practices with the US.

Tillerson also responded to the recent firestorm around his refusal to take a traveling press pool with him on a trip to China. He said the primary reason he did not take a press pool with him was to "save money." He also said that while he was aware of a tradition in which the Secretary of State spends time talking to the press pool aboard flights, "that's not the way I tend to spend my time. I spend my time working on this airplane. The entire time we're in the air, I'm working. Because there is a lot of work to do in the early stages."

He added: "I'm not a big media press access person ... I understand it's important to get the message of what we're doing out, but I also think there's only a purpose in getting the message out when there's something to be done. And so we have a lot of work to do, and when we're ready to talk about what we're trying to do, I will be available to talk to people."

But "there is another element to press access, which is accountability of U.S. government officials," the interviewer said, before asking Tillerson about recent reports that he had allegedly used a secret email address when communicating internally with Exxon officials about the risks of climate change.

Saying that the press needed to ask Exxon about the issue directly, Tillerson responded, "And it is a very simple explanation but I don't work, I mean, but it came up in the course of some litigation or potential litigation, I can't comment on it and I can't speak for Exxon Mobil either, so if you directed all questions about it back to Exxon Mobil."

The interviewer then asked him to confirm that he would not be using a private server or an email alias during his time as secretary of state, given the issue surrounding that which plagued Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

"I have two cell phones," Tillerson said.

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SEE ALSO: Rex Tillerson may have used an email alias to communicate with Exxon officials about the risks of climate change

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