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US secretary of state Rex Tillerson doesn’t enjoy dealing with North Korea, Pakistan

Tillerson’s lack of joy in dealing with North Korea and Pakistan was a reflection of the frustration felt in the US with two of America’s most intractable diplomatic challenges.

world Updated: Dec 13, 2017 18:13 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US secretary of state,Rex Tillerson,North Korea
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson speaks during a forum at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.(AFP Photo)

This might not go down well in Pakistan.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says dealing with North Korea and Pakistan — in the same breath — is part of his job that he doesn’t enjoy. And not just in a manner of speaking.

Asked if he enjoys his job, as the country’s top diplomat, Tillerson, said, “The actual task at hand of dealing with North Korea? I don’t enjoy that. I mean but I enjoy working with Susan Thornton (the senior state department official dealing with North Korea) on it. Dealing with Pakistan – I don’t enjoy that. But I enjoy dealing with Alice Wells (top state department official for South Asia) and Ambassador Hale (US ambassador to Pakistan David Hale) on it.”

Tillerson was doing a Town-Hall style meeting — a mix of speech and question-answer sessions — at the State Department, during which he did a review of the state of America’s diplomacy, engagements and ties around the world.

His lack of joy in working on North Korea and Pakistan — even if he said so to make a point that he likes his colleagues more than their millstone — was a reflection of the frustration felt in this town, irrespective of the party in power, with two of America’s most intractable diplomatic challenges.

The Trump administration has struggled to deal with an aggressive North Korea — with the back and forth between their leaders frequently degenerating into name-calling — and a Pakistan that remains cynically reluctant to give up its terrorists despite threats of “repercussions” and financial aid cuts.

But North Korea is one of the three countries the United States has declared rogue states (along with Syria and Iran), but Pakistan is a non-NATO ally and a recipient of tangible and intangible American largesse.

The Trump administration has put Pakistan on notice, personally by President Donald Trump through multiple speeches, and it has been delivered certain “asks” directly during visits by Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Tillerson did discuss Pakistan at some length at the Town Hall. It was “still an important and valued partner”, but he said, “over the last decade, the relationship has drifted, and we’ve got to bring this relationship back to one of common interest. Today that’s just not the case.”

So the United States is “engaged in very, very frank discussions with Pakistan (‘frank discussions’ in diplomacy are usually not very pleasant) over the concerns we have about their own stability and their own future and the threat they’re under by allowing terrorist organisations to operate in their territory.”

The United States believes there has been no perceptible change in Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts despite the tough message it was sent in President Trump’s new South Asia strategy. There has been no change, a top American general told reporters recently. And that is a mounting concern.

As Tillerson put it at the Town Hall: “A lot of work left to do.”

First Published: Dec 13, 2017 09:56 IST