President Donald Trump “represents the American people’s view of North Korea,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday, backing up Trump’s tweet declaring that China had failed in trying to ease the threat posed by North Korea.
In an ominous tweet sent Tuesday afternoon, Trump expressed gratitude toward China and its president, Xi Jinping, for trying “to help with North Korea,” but concluded “it has not worked out.”
“At least I know China tried!” Trump added.
Asked to explain the president’s apparent frustration, Mattis suggested that Trump was airing the discontent of the American people — especially in the wake of Otto Warmbier’s death. Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, returned to the U.S. from North Korea in a coma last week after spending more than a year in captivity. His parents announced Monday that he had died.
“I believe he represents the American people’s view of North Korea right now,” Mattis said of Trump at a joint news conference alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “We see a young man go over there healthy and with a minor act of mischief, come home dead, basically — dies immediately after he gets here. There’s no way that we can look at a situation like this with any kind of understanding. This goes beyond any kind of understanding, of law and order, of humanity, of responsibility towards any human being.”
“So what you’re seeing, I think, is the American people’s frustration with a regime that provokes and provokes and provokes and basically plays outside the rules, plays fast and loose with the truth and that sort of thing,” Mattis added.
Mattis and Tillerson held a brief news conference at the State Department on Wednesday after leading a diplomatic and security dialogue with Chinese officials. Tillerson, in his opening statement, described North Korea as “the most acute threat in the region today.”
“We both call for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we call on the DPRK to halt its illegal nuclear weapons program and its ballistic missile test, as stipulated in the U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Tillerson said. “China understands that the United States regards North Korea as our top security threat. We reiterated to China that they have a diplomatic responsibility to exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region.”
Tillerson said the U.S. needs to “step up” its efforts to curtail the North Korean regime’s revenue from what he described as “criminal enterprises” that include money laundering, extortion and malicious cyber activity.
“Countries around the world and in the U.N. Security Council are joining in this effort, and we hope China will do their part as well,” he continued.
Mattis said the U.S. and China have identical end goals with respect to North Korea’s nuclear capability that they continue to work toward. But he also warned that America “will continue to take necessary measures to defend ourselves and our allies.”