South Korea is confused by the mixed signals the United States has been sending on how it wants to handle the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, a ranking Democratic senator said Tuesday.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently returned from a trip to South Korea, where he met with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and other officials.
"I think the confusion is the message the administration is sending," he told CNN. "Secretary (of State Rex) Tillerson has been trying to establish diplomatic channels to North Korea. He's been trying to collaborate with our allies. But President Trump ... repeatedly sort of dissed him, told him not to do it in a series of tweets."
Last month Tillerson said the U.S. maintains direct channels of communication with Pyongyang. But Trump tweeted a day later that Tillerson was wasting his time.
"It's going to be ultimately necessary to have diplomacy here," Reed said, "because the consequences of a war are catastrophic on the peninsula."
Tensions have heightened over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, with Trump threatening to "totally destroy" the communist nation if necessary.
North Korea said last month it tested a hydrogen bomb that can be mounted a long-range missile capable of hitting the mainland U.S.
In a press conference Monday, Reed said the South Koreans are "confused" and "a little bit shaken because they understand that they would be in the line of fire if there's any contact between the United States and North Korea in terms of a kinetic military operation."
He also urged the U.S. government to increase cooperation with its allies and appoint an ambassador to South Korea.