He has rarely spoken to the media during those travels, frustrating the State Department press corps that usually accompanies the nation’s top diplomat on his travels overseas.
But during a recent trip to Beijing he was uncharacteristically forthcoming, telling reporters that the US maintained “direct contact” with North Korea.
His candor was met with an agitated response — not from the media, but from his boss back home.
Responding to questions about a diplomatic channel being opened, Tillerson said the US was not “in a dark situation or a blackout, we have a couple of direct channels to Pyongyang. We can talk to them. We do talk to them. Directly, through our own channels,” CNN reported
That Washington has such direct lines of communication with the Kim regime presented a rare moment of optimism that tensions might diminish, at a time when both leaders have aimed incendiary rhetoric in each other’s direction.
But the revelation — and the hope it might have encapsulated — was quickly shot down by US President Donald Trump, who dismissed his Secretary of State’s efforts as “wasting his time.”
“Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump tweeted from his personal account on Sunday.
He followed up five hours later with another tweet, declaring that “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now?” referring to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, who inherited the mantle of leadership from his father in 2011. He said past White House administrations had been unsuccessful. “I won’t fail,” he declared.
But has Tillerson really been wasting his time? How effective can diplomacy be at this juncture of an increasingly tense standoff?