WASHINGTON • In his first address laying out his vision as Secretary of State, Mr Rex Tillerson has said that the United States had been far too accommodating to emerging nations and long-time allies and that "things have gotten out of balance".
Righting those imbalances, he said, will be the mission of the State Department as it fulfils President Donald Trump's promise to put "America first".
"We were promoting relations. We were promoting economic activity. We were promoting trade with a lot of these emerging economies, and we just kind of lost track of how we were doing," Mr Tillerson said. "And as a result, things got a little bit out of balance."
On stage in the department's auditorium on Wednesday, he then discussed a series of specific challenges facing the US.
On reining in the nuclear programme in North Korea, he described the effort to apply international pressure to further isolate Pyongyang as "a pressure campaign that has a knob on it". He said: "I'd say we're at about dial setting five or six right now, with a strong call of countries all over the world to fully implement the UN Security Council resolutions regarding sanctions, because no one has ever fully implemented those."
LOSING THE PLOT
We were promoting relations. We were promoting economic activity. We were promoting trade with a lot of these emerging economies, and we just kind of lost track of how we were doing. And as a result, things got a little bit out of balance.
MR REX TILLERSON, US Secretary of State.
He said the next higher settings could involve penalising countries that continue to defy United Nations sanctions on trade with North Korea. But he said a big part of the campaign is "leaning hard into" China, and testing how much influence China has on Pyongyang.
As for speaking directly to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as Mr Trump recently suggested he would be willing to do, Mr Tillerson said North Korea needs to demonstrate its readiness for such a dialogue.
He said the US and China would soon begin a high- level dialogue. He said he and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis would lead negotiations next month with high-level Chinese officials on diplomatic and security issues, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would oversee talks on economic and trade issues after that.
"We want to take a fresh look at where's this relationship going to be 50 years from now," he said.
On Russia, he was far less optimistic, describing a relationship that has reached a low ebb.
Speaking less than 24 hours after Mr Trump spoke on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about working together to broker a ceasefire in Syria, Mr Tillerson set his sights low, saying that resolving even small irritants would be progress. "Today, there's almost no trust between us," he added.
He said many global organisations had not truly adjusted to the end of the Cold War - and he seemed to include the State Department on the list of institutions stuck in the past.
He urged employees to help him streamline the department so it could deal better with the world today, rather than as it was during the Cold War.
But he offered few specifics for staff who are deeply anxious about a proposed budget that would cut outlays by 31 per cent and that aides to Mr Tillerson have said could eliminate about 2,300 jobs, or about 3 per cent of the department's 75,000 employees.
The reductions are expected to be achieved through attrition.
Mr Tillerson said he had yet to settle on even a basic organisational structure.
An employee survey and hundreds of employee interviews over the coming weeks will be needed before he can begin filling the department's top leadership positions, he said.
Tillerson: US working on new North Korea sanctions. http://str.sg/42E4