Despite his remarks on Twitter over the weekend, President Trump is still backing the pursuit of a diplomatic end to heightening tensions with Kim Jong un’s regime in North Korea, according to Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

“President Trump’s guidance to both Secretary Tillerson and me has been very clear that we would pursue the diplomatic effort,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

I think the president dispatching Secretary Tillerson to Beijing here within the past several days to carry messages and to look at the way we can work with them is the most accurate answer to your question, that in fact this is part of a whole of government, integrated effort that we have underway right now,” Mattis said.

President Trump raised eyebrows on Sunday when he released a series of tweets seeming to indicate that, in his opinion, diplomatic efforts between the United States and North Korea were a lost cause.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…” the President wrote on Twitter, adding, “…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked to address the president’s remarks while working to engage in a dialogue with North Korea from Beijing, in which he referred to the entire situation as “overheated.”

According to Mattis, what the president meant when he called negotiating a waste of time, was simply that he wasn’t willing to enter into negotiations until the time was right, saying of the gap between the President’s statements and those made by Tillerson, “I do not see the divergence as strongly as some have interpreted it.”

Mattis also seemed to diverge from the president’s public statements regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran, which Trump has referred to as an “embarrassment,” though he has yet to formally take action to end America’s involvement in the multi-nation pact.

Both Mattis and Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have stated their support for the nuclear agreement with Iran in the past, however, both have also voiced their concerns about Iran’s other provocative behavior, that, while not in direct association with the agreement at hand, are worthy of note as they lend to the general instability of the region.

The amount of misconduct, I would call it, internationally, whether it be with ballistic missiles, rhetoric, support to terrorists, threats to our friends, Arab and Israel in the region by Iran, are areas that they are open to a great deal, I think, of censure by the international community,” Mattis said. “We are not naive about their agreement on the nuclear issue, and we are being very alert to any cheating on that right now.”

Despite those concerns, Mattis said he believed re-certifying the pact was the right decision.

If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly we should stay with it,” Mattis told the Senate hearing.  “I believe, absent indications to the contrary, it is something that the president should consider staying with,” Mattis added.

Dunford seemed to agree with Mattis’ assertions that the nuclear deal remained in America’s best interest.

“The agreement right now, what I testified to last week, Iran is not in material breach of the agreement,” Dunford told lawmakers on the panel. “And I do believe the agreement, to date, has delayed the development of nuclear capability by Iran.”

President Trump is said to be weighing his options regarding the agreement, and it seems possible that an American pull out could end the agreement despite the differing opinions of some other signatory nations.  He will have to choose whether or not re-certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement by October 15th in order to keep it alive.


Image courtesy of the Dept. of Defense