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Tillerson’s 23-word response to North Korean missile test has experts baffled

Experts around the world have been flummoxed by US secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s 23-word response to North Korea’s latest missile test.

world Updated: Apr 06, 2017 21:56 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
US secretary of state,Rex Tillerson,North Korean missile test
File photo of US secretary of state Rex Tillerson at a NATO foreign ministers meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on March 31, 2017. (Reuters)

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s 23-word response to North Korea’s latest test of a ballistic missile ahead of a China-US summit has had foreign policy wonks around the world scratching their heads as they try to decipher it.

North Korea fired the missile into the sea off its east coast on Wednesday. The test came a day before a meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, who are expected to discuss ways to pressure the reclusive regime to give up it increasingly defiant arms programme.

Tillerson’s response – seen by some as a “no comment” – totalled 23 words: “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”

Some contended the response was a departure from the usual condemnation of North Korean missile tests by the US. And some on Twitter took pot shots at it.

On CNN, Chris Cillizza wrote: “Twenty-three words that leave you more confused when you get to the end of them than when you started. Is Tillerson trying to talk tough? Or is he refusing to give North Korea the attention he thinks they’re trying to grab in advance of the US-China meeting? Somewhere in between? Neither? Both?

“The statement reads, to channel Winston Churchill, like a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. It’s Ernest Hemingway but for complicated and delicate matters of foreign policy. It’s, in a (hyphenated) word, a head-scratcher.”

Experts in South Korea believed the comments reflected the tough position being taken by the US.

“It seems Tillerson purposefully issued a short statement to send a tough signal,” Kim Sung-han, a professor at Seoul’s Korea University and a former South Korean deputy foreign minister, told AP.

“He is making it clear that, no matter what North Korea does, the United States won’t commit to direct negotiations unless Pyongyang shows real willingness for disarmament.”

Bong Youngshik, a researcher at Yonsei University’s Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Tillerson’s statement would have also been aimed at China. Tillerson also might stop making routine statements after every North Korean provocation or missile launch, Bong said.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Apr 05, 2017 16:25 IST