Tillerson: ‘We squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea’

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in an interview published Monday said President Trump’s summit meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea.” 

In the interview with Foreign Policy, which took place before a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol last week, Trump’s first secretary of State said he consistently disagreed with Trump’s disparagement of U.S. allies and engagement with authoritarian leaders, including Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

“The only rationalization I could come to was that he thought, ‘Well, if I disparage my allies and treat these bad guys as my friends, I’ll get more done with them in U.S. interests,’ ” Tillerson said. 

“Maybe he thought, ‘I’ll let Kim know we’re big buddies, and he’ll give up his nuclear weapons. I’ll let Putin know we’re big buddies, and he’ll get out of Ukraine.’ That’s the only way I could rationalize it, but I really don’t know,” said Tillerson, who was fired by Trump in March 2018 following numerous clashes over foreign policy. 

“Nothing worked out,” Tillerson continued. “We squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea. It was just blown up when he took the meeting with Kim, and that was one of the last straws between him and I.” 

The former CEO of ExxonMobil added, “with Putin, we didn’t get anything done. We’re nowhere with China on national security.”

“We’re in a worse place today than we were before he came in, and I didn’t think that was possible,” Tillerson said with just days left of the Trump administration before President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office. 

Tillerson also said that his job as secretary of State was made more difficult by Trump’s limited knowledge on U.S. foreign policy. 

“His understanding of global events, his understanding of global history, his understanding of U.S. history was really limited,” Tillerson told the magazine. “It’s really hard to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t even understand the concept for why we’re talking about this.” 

Trump has held multiple meetings with Kim throughout his presidency, though the talks failed to achieve any progress on nuclear nonproliferation in North Korea. 

Continued U.S.-led sanctions on the country over its nuclear program have continued to cripple the already struggling nation’s economy. 

On Monday, Kim reportedly said in an address to the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea that North Korea’s activities should focus on bringing its “arch-enemy” the U.S. “to their knees,” while also threatening to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal, according to the country’s state media, the Korean Central News Agency. 

Tillerson previously criticized Trump’s foreign policy performance when in May 2019 the former secretary of State told lawmakers that Putin was more prepared than Trump for a key meeting in Germany. 

Trump fired back at Tillerson at the time, tweeting that his former Cabinet member was “dumb as a rock” and that his account that he was out-prepared by Putin was “made up.” 

Tags Donald Trump Foreign Policy Foreign policy Joe Biden Kim Jong Un North Korea north korea nuclear weapon nuclear nonproliferation Rex Tillerson Russia State Department Vladimir Putin

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