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Donald Trump

Trump tells Tillerson he’s wasting his time negotiating with North Korea’s ‘Little Rocket Man’

US President undermines his chief diplomat’s efforts, telling him ‘save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 October, 2017, 11:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 October, 2017, 11:03am

US President Donald Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man” and rebuked efforts by his top diplomat to establish direct contact between Washington and Pyongyang.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump said via Twitter Sunday after comments by Tillerson in Beijing that the US currently had “lines of communication to Pyongyang”.

“Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump added.

Watch: Trump tells Tillerson he’s wasting time on North Korea

After meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday, Tillerson said the US was trying to use direct channels to Pyongyang to investigate whether the country’s government was ready to enter talks on giving up its nuclear weapons programme.

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Tillerson said.

“We ask: would you like to talk? We have lines of communication to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation.”

Asked whether China was acting as a go-between for that contact, Tillerson said: “Our own channels.”

Without mentioning the North Korea stand-off directly, Xi called on China and the United States to strengthen coordination on major global issues and to respect each other’s core interests.

The two nations have disagreements over the handling of North Korea, with Washington calling on Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang, while Beijing says the crisis should be resolved through dialogue.

Tillerson’s trip, announced soon before he departed, was part of stepped-up diplomatic activity ahead of Trump’s visit to Beijing next month.

US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross visited Beijing last month to discuss trade issues while Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong was in the US to promote social and cultural exchanges.

Liu met Tillerson soon before he departed for his trip to Beijing.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert and Tillerson’s chief public affairs adviser, R C Hammond, later took to Twitter to deny that Washington was sending out mixed messages to the regime, and to other countries in the region.

“DPRK will not obtain a nuclear capability,” Nauert wrote , using the country’s official title Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “Whether through diplomacy or force is up to the regime, she continued, “Diplomatic channels are open for KimJongUn for now. They won’t be open forever @StateDept @potus.”

Hammond, meanwhile, said Trump’s tweets were not a rebuke to Tillerson but were intended to send a message to Kim that time was running out for a diplomatic solution.

“Channels have been open for months. They’ve been unused and cooling for months,” he said. “The president just sent a clear message to NK: show up at the diplomatic table before the invitation gets cold,” he added in another tweet .

“Message to Rex? Try message to Pyongyang: step up to the diplomatic table.”

Trump has called Kim “Rocket Man” several times recently, most notoriously during an address to the United Nations General Assembly last month, in which the US president also threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea.

The insult and the threat prompted North Korea’s state media to publish a first-person response from Kim, in which he said, referring to Trump, that he would “surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.”

Additional reporting by The Guardian