Trump: ‘We will handle’ North Korea

Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty Images

“I will only tell you that we will take care of it,” President Donald Trump said Tuesday. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

President Donald Trump said “we will handle” the intensifying situation with North Korea, though he gave no details about how to do it after the nation launched an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday.

“I will only tell you that we will take care of it,” Trump said. “We have Gen. [Jim] Mattis in the room with us, and we’ve had a long discussion on it. It is a situation that we will handle.”

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The president spoke after huddling with GOP senators on Capitol Hill and after the Pentagon on Tuesday said it detected a North Korean missile launch — the first from Pyongyang since mid-September.

“It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken,” Mattis said. “It’s a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world, basically.”

South Korea in response has “fired some pinpoint missiles out into the water to make certain North Korea understands that they could be taken under fire by our ally,” Mattis said.

“But the bottom line is it’s a continued effort to build threat … a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States,” he added.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned the launch in his own statement on Tuesday, offering up further steps forward for the U.S. and noting diplomatic options remain on the table “for now.”

“All nations must continue strong economic and diplomatic measures,” Tillerson said. “In addition to implementing all existing UN sanctions, the international community must take additional measures to enhance maritime security, including the right to interdict maritime traffic transporting goods to and from the DPRK.”

The U.S. and Canada will convene a meeting of the United Nations Command Sending States, Tillerson noted, “to discuss how the global community can counter North Korea’s threat to international peace.”

The United States, he added, “remains committed to finding a peaceful path to denuclearization and to ending belligerent actions by North Korea.”

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Grijalva blasts report on hostile workplace allegations

Raul Grijalva is pictured here. | Getty Images

“Last week, the Washington Times contacted me seeking comment on what it described as a sexual harassment claim that, in fact, had never been made,” Rep. Raul Grijalva said in a statement. | Robyn Beck/Getty Images

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) on Tuesday demanded an apology from the Washington Times for a report that he paid more than $48,000 from his office’s budget to settle a former aide’s hostile workplace environment claim related to alleged alcohol use.

Grijalva pushed back after the newspaper reported that he had offered a former aide five months’ severance pay to settle her claim, which was never taken to Capitol Hill’s workplace misconduct adjudicators at the Office of Compliance.

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The Arizonan is the second House Democrat in one week to become embroiled in a growing scandal over Congress’ secret system for settling workplace misconduct complaints, with a third woman coming forward Tuesday to allege sexual harassment by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

Grijalva’s alleged behavior was not sexual in nature — although he claimed Tuesday that the Times initially contacted him about a sexual misconduct case.

“Last week, the Washington Times contacted me seeking comment on what it described as a sexual harassment claim that, in fact, had never been made,” Grijalva said in a statement. He accused the newspaper of eventually publishing “a misleading article trying to link me to sexual harassment complaints made against other people.”

Grijalva acknowledged the basic facts of the report that he and the former aide “mutually agreed on terms for a severance package, including an agreement that neither of us would talk about it publicly,” with the assistance of the House’s chief employment counsel. That office is tasked with representing the interests of lawmakers during such negotiations with employees.

“The terms were consistent with House Ethics Committee guidance,” Grijlava added. “The severance funds came out of my committee operating budget. Every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately.”

The Times “owes me an apology,” Grijalva added.

The $27,000 settlement Conyers reached in 2015 with a former aide accusing him of sexual harassment was paid through his personal office’s budget, meaning that the compliance office did not tally the payment in its annual reporting of workplace misconduct settlements on the Hill.

It is unclear, beyond the House employment counsel’s office, which entity on the Hill maintains a comprehensive record of workplace misconduct settlements that lawmakers pay using their taxpayer-funded personal budgets.

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North Korean missile test travels 600 miles, Pentagon confirms

A ballistic missile is pictured. | AP Photo

North Korea has test-fired 15 missiles so far in 2017. | AP Photo

Updated

North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday that the Pentagon estimates traveled more than 600 miles — ending a more than two-month lull in Pyongyang’s provocative behavior.

“The missile was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea, and traveled about 1000 km before splashing down in the Sea of Japan, within Japan’s Economic Exclusion Zone,” Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed in a statement. “We are working with our interagency partners on a more detailed assessment of the launch.”

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also tweeted that President Donald Trump “was briefed, while missile was still in the air, on the situation in North Korea.”

Tensions with North Korea — which is subject to a series of U.S. and international sanctions for its outlawed missile and nuclear weapons programs — have reached a boiling point this year as Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un have increasingly traded inflammatory barbs.

North Korea has test-fired 15 missiles so far in 2017 and conducted its sixth underground nuclear test in September.

Tuesday’s missile launch is the first since mid-September, when North Korea fired a missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido into the Pacific Ocean.

Some experts viewed the latest test as noteworthy because it was conducted in the middle of the night in North Korea.

Such launches are harder for the U.S. to track, said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They are also more difficult to intercept with missile defense systems, he said.

Just minutes after the launch, the South Korean military conducted a “precision strike” missile test of its own in response, local media reported.

Narang said this quick response shows that the South Koreans are increasing their operational tempo and readiness to respond to the growing North Korean threat.

Manning, the Pentagon spokesman, said that “in the face of these threats,” the U.S. commitment to its allies in the region “remains ironclad.”

“We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation,” he said.

He added that the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which tracks aerial threats to the United States, “determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America, our territories or our allies.”

Wesley Morgan contributed to this report.

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Tillerson fends off ‘redesign’ critics

Rex Tillerson is pictured. | AP Photo

“There is no hollowing out. These numbers that people are throwing around are just false. They’re wrong,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 28. | Sait Serkan Gurbuz/AP Photo

The secretary of state responded to scathing critiques of his plan to reshape the State Department.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday dismissed mounting criticism of his plan to restructure the State Department, insisting “there is no hollowing out” of the agency but that it can be run more efficiently and with less funding.

Addressing questions after a speech on U.S.-European relations in Washington, Tillerson shed some new light on his largely veiled plans to reshape the department. He also said many of the reports about a loss of diplomatic personnel and sunken interest in the Foreign Service were exaggerated or incorrect.

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“There is no hollowing out. These numbers that people are throwing around are just false. They’re wrong,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s defense follows increasingly vocal complaints from Republican and Democratic lawmakers about the slow pace of what he calls the “redesign” of the department. A scathing Monday New York Times op-ed by former ambassadors Nicholas Burns and Ryan Crocker accused the secretary of “a deliberate effort to deconstruct the State Department and the Foreign Service.”

A visibly annoyed Tillerson said his critics were misinformed and relying on misleading numbers. He pointed to a widely circulated figure that State had lost 60 percent of its career ambassadors under his leadership and noted that it reflects a very small sample. In fact, Tillerson said, there were six such ambassadors when he took over in February, four of whom have since departed.

The overall number of Foreign Service officers has barely budged, Tillerson added, noting that he has made some 2,300 exceptions to a declared hiring freeze and has rejected very few requests.

Tillerson’s speech, hosted by the nonpartisan Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, reassured Europeans that America’s fundamental commitment to their security has not changed under President Donald Trump. But Tillerson added that “the nations of Europe must accept greater responsibility for their own security challenges,” and reiterated Trump’s prior calls for America’s NATO allies to increase their defense spending.

Tillerson also took a hard line on Russian aggression in Ukraine, insisting that any resolution to the conflict there would be “unacceptable” unless it results in a Ukraine that is whole, independent and sovereign. He said that Russia’s actions do not reflect a “responsible nation.”

At the same time, Tillerson — a former ExxonMobil CEO who dealt often with Russian leader Vladimir Putin — also said that the U.S. wants to cooperate with Russia where possible. That includes finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria, he said.

On the question of stewardship at Foggy Bottom, Tillerson did concede that the nomination process for top State Department officials had been unusually slow during his tenure, and praised the many career diplomats now serving in vacant leadership slots on an acting basis.

“The people that are serving in those roles are doing extraordinary work,” Tillerson said. “I’m offended on their behalf” by the criticism aimed at the department.

Tillerson launched the redesign process soon after taking over as secretary. He has largely supported Trump’s proposal to slash State’s budget by 30 percent — a cut leading members of Congress call unrealistic — and many believe Tillerson ultimately wants a much smaller department.

Tillerson said the department’s budget in recent years had ballooned to some $55 billion and was filled with spending inefficiencies. He also said the State Department would need less money as global conflicts wind down.

Although it’s not the first time Tillerson has made such a claim, critics note that he’s given no specifics about which conflicts he sees petering out. They warn that new conflicts could easily emerge from North Korea to Iran.

Tillerson hinted that his redesign plan may be less about the department’s structure and more about its practices. One major focus, he said, will be on technology upgrades, along with revised human resources policies.

Tillerson said he was surprised to learn that many U.S. diplomats only spent a year in some overseas posts after expensive training for that specific role. Extending such tours could be one change to come, he said.

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