Top Dem after trip to South Korea: Ally is confused, shaken by Trump rhetoric

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Monday that South Koreans are “confused” and “a little bit shaken” by President Trump’s rhetoric on North Korea.

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedSenate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Army leader on waiver report: 'There's been no change in standards' 15 Dems urge FEC to adopt new rules for online political ads MORE (D-R.I.) was speaking to reporters in Washington after returning from a trip last week to South Korea and the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

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“I think they’re confused, and I think they’re a little bit shaken because they understand that they would be in the line of fire if there’s any contact between the United States and North Korea in terms of a kinetic military operation,” Reed said of South Koreans he spoke with.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have engaged in a heated war of words in recent months as Pyongyang progresses its nuclear and missile programs.

Trump has taken to calling Kim “Little Rocket Man,” while Kim has called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

Trump has also threatened the North Korean regime, tweeting that they “won’t be around much longer.” North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, meanwhile, has said Trump’s rhetoric amounts to a declaration of war.

On Monday, Reed said he hoped Trump’s speech during his upcoming trip to South Korea will take into account the ally’s concerns.

“I can only hope that the president’s proposed speech to the Korean National Assembly, if it takes place during his trip, takes into account the sentiments of the South Korean people who are decidedly against a war on the peninsula,” he said.

Reed also said South Koreans are confused by the apparent gap between Trump and Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonOvernight Defense: Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital | Mattis, Tillerson reportedly opposed move | Pentagon admits 2,000 US troops are in Syria | Trump calls on Saudis to 'immediately' lift Yemen blockade Trump has yet to name ambassadors to key nations in Mideast Mattis, Tillerson warned Trump of security concerns in Israel embassy move MORE, and Trump’s mixed messages on negotiations with the North.

Tillerson has said the U.S. is “probing” for talks with North Korea, while Trump said Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate. But Trump also said Friday that he’s “always open” to negotiations.

“On one hand they hear Secretary Tillerson being reprimanded for suggesting that he’s trying to set up lines of communication,” Reed said. “On the other hand, Trump casually says that he might talk to Kim Jong Un. So it’s confusion, it’s concern, and ultimately I think it’s a lack of confidence in what we’re going to do.”

For his part, Reed called for an “active” U.S. role in some form of multilateral talks on North Korea, saying that Tillerson could start with talks with South Korea and Japan and then expand to include China and Russia, or vice versa. 

“We have to get into high-level talks with our allies and significant powers in the region,” Reed said. “This issue is incredibly complex. Each country has its own prioritization of issues, some of them which are in direct conflict with one another. We should be trying to get all of these parties on the same playbook so that we can engage North Korea from a position of strength.”