After North Korea launched three more short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea early on Saturday morning, local time, political observers were eagerly looking forward to Trump's response, especially since the president had managed to get boxed in by Kim Jong Un: on one hand, do nothing and be mocked and ridiculed not only by the North Korean press, but by the rest of the developed world, whose view of Trump's diplomatic skills could hardly be any worse; or on the other hand, launch a military campaign, either surgical or broad, and risk a retaliation against South Korea and millions of US allies dying.
In the end the US appears to have chosen the former and on Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the firing of three ballistic missiles by North Korea this week was a provocative act but that the United States will continue to seek a peaceful resolution. The de-escalating tone took place just days after Tillerson credited the North with showing some restraint by not launching a missile since the ICBM test in July, and he had expressed hope that the easing of tension could lead to dialogue. That was not meant to be, although in it appears that what happened next is North Korea called the US bluff, and the US folded.
“We do view it as a provocative act against the United States and our allies,” Tillerson said in an interview on Fox News Sunday. “We’re going to continue our peaceful pressure campaign as I have described it, working with allies, working with China as well to see if we can bring the regime in Pyongyang to the negotiating table.”
As the NYT also reported, North Korea used multiple-rocket launchers off its east coast on Saturday to fire three short-range missiles that could strike United States military bases deep in South Korea, officials in Seoul said. The launches were the North’s first rocket tests since two intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, were fired last month.
By resuming the tests, North Korea defied repeated urgings from the United States and South Korea to stop weapons trials and other provocations to pave the way for dialogue. The United States Pacific Command said that one of the three ballistic missiles had blown up immediately after blastoff, but that two others had traveled about 155 miles before splashing down. That would be far enough to reach major South Korean and American military bases, including those near the city of Pyeongtaek, about 60 miles south of Seoul. The range would also be sufficient to reach Seongju, a South Korean town where the United States has begun installing an advanced missile-defense system known as Thaad.
Kim Dong-yub, a defense analyst at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said the tests on Saturday appeared to be aimed at expanding the strike range.
Nevertheless, the nature of the tests prompted some relief in the region.
The missiles flew to the northeast, not toward Guam, home to major United States Air Force and Navy bases. North Korea threatened to launch ballistic missiles in a “ring of fire” around Guam after President Trump threatened to hit the North with “fire and fury” if it persisted with its development of ICBMs.
Surprisingly, South Korea did not issue its usual condemnatory statement against the tests. In Tokyo, the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said the missiles did not fall in Japanese waters or pose a threat to his nation’s safety. White House officials said that Mr. Trump had been briefed on the tests but did not immediately have any further comment.
And while North Korea was certainly on Tillerson's agenda, what the media was focused on was Tillerson's reported distancing from Trump’s remarks after the deadly Virginia protests, saying the president "speaks for himself.” Tillerson's comment on “Fox News Sunday" follows Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser and the director of the National Economic Council, saying in a Financial Times interview published last week that the administration “can and must do better” in condemning hate groups.
In the exchange below, Chris Wallace asked Tillerson about Trump's response to the racist carnage in Charlottesville. Tillerson replied: "I don't believe anyone doubts the American people's values or the commitment of the American government, or the government's agencies to advancing those values and defending those values."
Wallace asked the obvious follow-up question: "And the president's values?"
"The president speaks for himself," Tillerson said, leaving Wallace with a surprised look on his face.
Must-watch. Wallace asks Tillerson if Trump speaks for American values: "The President speaks for himself." (Note Wallace's reaction.) pic.twitter.com/fHEk6qjwPd— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 27, 2017
So, in response moments ago Axios reported that Tillerson appears to be the next top administration in Trump's proverbial board room, who may soon here the trademarked Trump phrase: "You're Fired!" According to Axios, "there's a ticking problem with Rex Tillerson, and it's growing louder by the day, citing officials inside and close to the White House."
President Trump has been growing increasingly frustrated with his Secretary of State. One time recently, after Trump had returned from a meeting on Afghanistan, a source recalled Trump saying, "Rex just doesn't get it, he's totally establishment in his thinking."
As Axios adds, "Trump is getting more and more fed up with Tillerson, who has still yet to staff his agency."
So is Tillerson the next top administration official to get kicked out by Trump? Unfortunately, the firings at the White House have been so fast and furious in recent weeks, the online political prediction marketplace PredictIt.com hasn't had the time to put together a contract tracking the odds of Tillerson's imminent survival, or lack thereof.