A deputy assistant to President Donald Trump has dismissed as “simply nonsensical” statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson regarding a military response to North Korea, arguing that Tillerson was stepping beyond his administration role as the nation’s top diplomat.
The remarks by Trump aide Sebastian Gorka to the BBC came after media criticism that the Trump administration — the president as well as Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — had offered mixed messages as tension rose over North Korea’s nuclear program.
While Trump on Tuesday warned North Korea not to threaten the U.S. and spoke of meeting the North with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Tillerson on Wednesday played down those comments and said Trump “just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the U.S.’s unquestionable ability to defend itself.” He added: “I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days.”
In discussing the U.S. response to North Korea, Gorka told the BBC on Thursday: “You should listen to the president. The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical. It is the job of Secretary Mattis, the secretary of defense, to talk about the military options and he has done so unequivocally. Today he said woe betide anyone who militarily challenges the United States, and that is his portfolio, that is his mandate. Secretary Tillerson is the chief diplomat of the United States and it is his portfolio to handle those issues.”
Later, in an interview on Fox News Channel, Gorka said he was misinterpreted. “I said for reporters to force our chief diplomat, the amazing Rex Tillerson, to give details of military options is nonsensical.”
Instead, Gorka said he was criticizing journalists “who are forcing our chief diplomat into a position where they are demanding he makes the military case for action when that is not the mandate of the secretary of state. That’s why we have a Department of Defense.”
At the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she couldn’t comment directly on Gorka’s remarks because she had not heard them herself. She said Tillerson and Mattis had a good relationship and that Tillerson had not spoken about U.S. military capabilities.