Tillerson defends US foreign policy record at year's end

WASHINGTON • The United States' top diplomat has defended his country's foreign policy record, saying progress had been made in the last year to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambitions and to counter the "immense challenges" posed by Russia, China and Iran.

In an opinion piece titled "I am proud of our diplomacy" published by The New York Times on Wednesday evening, 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 dramatically on the Korean peninsula this year after the nuclear-armed regime staged a series of atomic and intercontinental ballistic missile tests - and as US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un traded barbs.

Washington wants North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme and has spearheaded three rounds of United Nations sanctions against the isolated regime, curbing 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.

In his piece, Mr Tillerson said "a door to dialogue remains open" for Pyongyang but warned "until denuclearisation occurs, the pressure will continue". At the same time, he called on China - Pyongyang's only major ally - to "do more" to pressure North Korea.

In his piece, Mr Tillerson said "a door to dialogue remains open" for Pyongyang but warned "until denuclearisation occurs, the pressure will continue". At the same time, he called on China - Pyongyang's only major ally - to "do more" to pressure North Korea.

The Trump administration has been dogged by allegations that the President's campaign team colluded with Russia to help him win last year's election.

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 had 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 towards Iran," he warned. "We are now confronting the totality of Iranian threats."

He also defended his cuts to the State Department and United States Agency for International Development's 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.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'Tillerson defends US foreign policy record at year's end'. Print Edition | Subscribe