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US top diplomat Tillerson defends foreign policy record at year’s end

Top diplomat says progress has been made but US faces big challenges from N. Korea, Russia and China

WASHINGTON: The United States' top diplomat defended his country's foreign policy record on Wednesday, saying that he was 'proud of our diplomacy', and that progress had been made to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambitions and to counter the "immense challenges" posed by Russia, China and Iran.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said some 90 per cent of Pyongyang's export earnings had been cut off by a series of international sanctions after the Trump administration "abandoned the failed policy of strategic patience".

Tensions have escalated on the Korean peninsula this year after the isolated, nuclear-armed regime staged a series of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests - and as US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un traded personal insults.

Washington wants North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme and has spearheaded three rounds of UN sanctions against the isolated regime, restricting crucial exports of coal, iron, seafood and textiles from the cash-starved state.

Pyongyang has hit out at those sanctions, calling the latest round "an act of war", and has vowed to never give up its nuclear programme.

PRESSURE

In his piece, Mr Tillerson said "a door to dialogue remains open" for Pyongyang but warned that "until denuclearisation occurs, the pressure will continue".

He called on China - Pyongyang's only major ally - to "do more" to pressure North Korea.

Mr Trump has been dogged by allegations that his campaign team colluded with Russia to help him win last year's election.

The flawed nuclear deal is no longer the focal point of our policy toward Iran. We are now confronting the totality of Iranian threats. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Addressing relations with Moscow, Mr Tillerson said the Trump administration had "no illusions about the regime we are dealing with" and that they were "on guard against Russian aggression".

But he added that Washington needed to "recognise the need to work with Russia where mutual interests intersect", citing Syria's civil war, where the two countries have backed opposing sides but pushed for peace talks.

On Iran, he struck a less conciliatory tone.

"The flawed nuclear deal is no longer the focal point of our policy toward Iran," he warned. "We are now confronting the totality of Iranian threats."

He also defended his cuts to the State Department and USAID budget, saying they were designed to "address root problems that lead to inefficiencies and frustrations".

Critics say Mr Tillerson's first year in office has seen scores of key diplomatic posts go unfilled, embassies hampered by cuts and many veteran staff leave the foreign service altogether. - AFP

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