World

North Korea the 'greatest threat' faced by US

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spells out US foreign policy

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out his plans on Wednesday for tackling world issues including the stand-off with North Korea, which he called the most urgent challenge the US has to deal with.

Three months after taking over the State Department, Washington's top diplomat gave a wide-ranging pep talk to his staff around the globe on the work ahead.

In his budget proposal, President Donald Trump has proposed slashing the US foreign relations and aid budget by more than a quarter.

But Mr Tillerson reassured his audience that they would be consulted on plans to restructure the department even as they work together on the key challenges.

These are:

NORTH KOREA

North Korea's efforts to develop an arsenal of nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching US cities are the "greatest threat" faced by the US.

Mr Tillerson told the diplomats that he had advised Mr Trump to "test" China's commitment to reining in its neighbour by "leaning in hard" on President Xi Jinping.

If Beijing fails to enforce existing UN sanctions, he warned, then Washington could take action against Chinese banks or companies that deal with Pyongyang.

"So it's a pressure campaign that has a knob on it. I'd say we're at about dial setting 5 or 6 right now," he said, without saying how high the dial goes.

CHINA

China's role in North Korea may be the most pressing issue, but Mr Tillerson senses an opening to reset the basis of China-US ties for the next 50 years.

Mr Trump and Mr Xi met last month in Florida and Mr Tillerson wants the bilateral dialogue to intensify.

Differences remain over freedom of navigation in waters claimed by China in the South China Sea and the trans-Pacific trade imbalance. But Mr Tillerson said ties were at a "point of inflection" and ripe for review.

"Let's kind of revisit this relationship, and what is it going to be over the next half century.

"I think it's a tremendous opportunity we have to define that, and there seems to be a great interest on the part of the Chinese leadership to do that as well."

ISLAMIC TERRORISM

Before North Korea's latest weapons tests, Mr Trump had made the battle to eradicate "radical Islamic terrorism" the focus of his foreign policy.

It remains a key goal, and Mr Tillerson said the State Department would be part of the effort.

He described the threat as emanating in "concentric circles" from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria through the Middle East to Africa and Central Asia.

RUSSIA

In his former job as CEO of energy giant ExxonMobil, Mr Tillerson was a frequent visitor to Russia, pursuing oil deals with the Kremlin.

Russia clearly hoped Mr Trump's election victory and Mr Tillerson's appointment would lead to warmer ties with Washington - that has not happened.

Mr Tillerson told his colleagues that, on a visit to Moscow last month, he had told President Vladimir Putin that relations are as bad as they have been since the Cold War.

He said: "He did not disagree. He shrugged his shoulders and nodded in agreement." - AFP

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