Tillerson Tells the Korean Truth

Rex Tillerson caused a stir Friday on his first trip to Asia by—are you sitting down?—telling the truth about North Korea and China. The Secretary of State may be a rookie diplomat, but he can’t do any worse on North Korea than his recent predecessors in both political parties have.

“Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Mr. Tillerson said, referring to the Obama Administration policy of waiting for North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions or collapse. A day earlier he criticized “20 years” of a “failed approach” to the North’s nuclear ambitions.

He’s right about the failure. Going back to Bill Clinton and diplomat Robert Gallucci’s Agreed Framework in 1994, three American administrations have sought to bribe Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear program and coax China to help. They engaged in years of multi-government talks and offered cash or other concessions for North Korean promises that it never fulfilled.

President George W. Bush even took North Korea off the list of terror-sponsoring states after the North tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006. And even as it came to light that Pyongyang had helped Syria build the beginnings of a nuclear program. Bush-era diplomats Condoleezza Rice and Christopher Hill have a lot to answer for after they persuaded President Bush to give up a pressure campaign against the North that was showing signs of success.

President Obama tried to coax the North with a similar invitation, but by then the Kim family regime had decided to build a nuclear-weapons stockpile along with the missiles to deliver them. That’s when Mr. Obama settled on the “strategic patience” doctrine that has now left the North close to achieving the ability to destroy Seoul, Tokyo or Seattle.
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