The comment by the United States’ top diplomat comes after the North Korean military threatened a missile strike near the U.S. territory of Guam in response to Trump’s comment and a U.S. bomber operation in the region.
During a brief scheduled stop in Guam, Tillerson suggested Trump’s rhetoric is a strategy he is using as head of state to communicate clearly with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime that the U.S. has the unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies, and I think it was important that he deliver that message to avoid any miscalculation on their part.”
Later Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted about the United States’ nuclear capabilities amid tensions with the nuclear-capable North Korean regime. He said the U.S. nuclear arsenal is the most powerful it’s ever been under his leadership.
“My first order as president was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” Trump wrote. “Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”
On Tuesday, Trump warned North Korea not to make any more threats against the United States. In July, North Korea said it would “strike a merciless blow” at the United States if Washington ever attempted to remove Kim from power.
“They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Trump said from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “[Kim] has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Guam is home to Anderson Air Force Base, from which two U.S. B-1B bombers deployed on a mission with the South Korean and Japanese air forces on Monday. The aircraft flew over Japanese airspace before passing over the Korean Peninsula.
“I think what the president was just reaffirming is that the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack, and our allies, and we will do so,” Tillerson said. “So the American people should sleep well at night.”