Mattis Insists He and Trump Are on the Same Page on North Korea

September 1, 2017



WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis insisted on Thursday that he was not at odds with President Trump over North Korea and asserted that the media had misinterpreted his recent remarks on how to deal with Pyongyang.

Mr. Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning that “Talking is not the answer.” His comment followed North Korea’s test launch of an intermediate-range missile over Japanese territory and was a departure from Mr. Trump’s previous assertion in May that he might be willing to meet with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

Later that day, Mr. Mattis was asked at the start of a meeting with his South Korean counterpart if Mr. Trump’s tweet meant that diplomatic efforts by the United States had come to an end.

“We’re never out of diplomatic solutions,” Mr. Mattis said.

Those comments were widely interpreted as contradicting Mr. Trump’s tweet. But meeting with reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday, Mr. Mattis insisted that the two statements were not, in fact, at odds.

“I was asked if there are any diplomatic efforts left, and I said, ‘Of course,’” Mr. Mattis said. “And diplomatic can include economic sanctions, not just talking. It didn’t contradict anything the president said.”

“I agree with the president we should not be talking right now to a nation that’s firing missiles over the top of Japan, an ally,” Mr. Mattis added.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has previously suggested that the United States would be open to a dialogue with North Korea if it stopped its missile tests and other provocative acts.

Asked if he had ever considered resigning because of policy differences, Mr. Mattis said that he was committing to serving as the secretary of defense.

”I don’t care if it’s Republican or Democrat, we all have an obligation to serve,” Mr. Mattis said. “That’s all there is to it.”

“I mean, the first time I met with President Trump, we disagreed on three things in my first 40 minutes with him — on NATO, on torture and something else — and he hired me,” he added. “This is not a man who’s immune to being persuaded if he thinks you’ve got an argument.”

A version of this article appears in print on September 1, 2017, on Page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: Defense Secretary Says He Didn’t Contradict President. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe



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