WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says that “Talking is not the answer” when it comes to North Korea. And he’s claiming the U.S. has been paying North Koreans what he calls “extortion money” for decades.
“The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, adding: “Talking is not the answer!”
The tweet comes on the heels of the North’s recent missile test over Japan, a close American ally.
But his comment contradicted statements from his Cabinet officials and was likely to deepen confusion over his administration’s policy on the nuclear threat from Pyongyang. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday told reporters, “We’re never out of diplomatic solutions,” and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had hinted at possible direct talks with North Korea.
Trump’s tweet did not spell out what he meant by “extortion” in the current standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program, and the White House did not immediately respond to questions.
North Korea has in the past temporarily halted nuclear development when the U.S. and others provided food aid or other types of compensation. But the North hasn’t been making such demands, at least publicly, since Trump came into office. Instead, it has been focused on finishing its decades-long effort to master the technology for fitting a nuclear warhead on a missile that can striking the U.S. mainland, calling such capability essential for its national defense.
Trump’s assessment about the need for dialogue also appears at odds with Tillerson, who had in recent weeks been softening the conditions for a possible, formal dialogue with Pyongyang. The U.S. also has been maintaining a diplomatic back channel with North Korea.
Trump offered a surprisingly subdued response to Pyongyang’s latest missile test Tuesday, avoiding a repeat of his bombastic warnings earlier this month of a potential military confrontation.
Nonetheless, U.S. officials announced Wednesday morning that they had conducted a missile defense test that resulted in the successful intercept of a medium-range ballistic missile off the coast of Hawaii. The test was conducted by the Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy sailors.
“We are working closely with the fleet to develop this important new capability, and this was a key milestone in giving our Aegis BMD ships an enhanced capability to defeat ballistic missiles in their terminal phase,” Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said in a statement. “We will continue developing ballistic missile defense technologies to stay ahead of the threat as it evolves.”
Associated Press writer Brad Klapper contributed to this report.