Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday responded to President Donald Trump’s earlier assertion that “talking is not the answer” when it comes to dealing with North Korea’s ongoing missile tests.
North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile early Tuesday that flew over Japan, escalating tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. On Wednesday morning, Trump fired off a war-drumming tweet saying:
“The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!”
But later in the day, Mattis broke from that view, telling reporters asking about the tweet at the Pentagon, “We’re never out of diplomatic solutions.”
“We continue to work together, and the minister and I share responsibility to provide for the protection of our nation our populations and our interests, which is what we are here to discuss today,” Mattis said alongside South Korea Defense Minister Song Young-moo.
“And look for all the areas we can collaborate — there is already very strong collaboration, we always look for more, we are never complacent.”
The defense chiefs also declined to discuss the additional U.S. military support South Korea might need to increase pressure on North Korea.
Mattis’s comments on how to respond to North Korea echo those of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said Sunday that the U.S. would continue its “peaceful pressure” campaign on Pyongyang.
“We continue to want the Kim Jong Un regime to understand there is a different path he can choose,” Tillerson told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
This is not the first time Mattis and Tillerson openly disagree with the erratic president. On Tuesday, Mattis halted Trump’s ban on transgender individuals in the military, announcing that transgender soldiers would be allowed to continue serving in the U.S. military pending the results of a study.
Last week, Tillerson told reporters that “Trump speaks for himself on American Values,” adding that “the Constitution, not Trump, speaks for the country.”