Donald Trump's now former Secretary of State confers with the president in October 2017. Photo: Reuters
Donald Trump's now former Secretary of State confers with the president in October 2017. Photo: Reuters

Embattled US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged China on Thursday to curb its oil supply to North Korea in the wake of its latest missile launch.

Tillerson made the comments as the New York Times quoted senior administration officials as saying that the White House has developed a plan to replace Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The secretary of state called on Beijing to squeeze the North’s oil supply after President Donald Trump expressed disappointment in an early morning tweet that a Chinese envoy’s recent visit to Pyongyang appeared to have had “no impact” on halting North Korea’s nuke ambitions. North Korea test-fired a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday.

“I think the Chinese are doing a lot,” Tillerson said when asked by reporters in Washington if he shared Trump’s critical view. “We do think they could do more with the oil, and we’re really asking them to please restrain more of the oil — not cut it off completely.”

Tillerson noted that turning off North Korea’s oil has yielded results in the past. “That was the most effective tool the last time the North Koreans came to the table, was cutting the oil off,” Tillerson said, referring to the denuclearization talks that began after China suspended its oil supply in 2003.

But South Korea’s Yonhap news agency noted that such negotiations fell through in 2008.

Tillerson and Trump have publicly clashed on the best way to handle North Korea in the crisis, with Tillerson calling for negotiations and Trump saying that Tillerson is “wasting his time.”

Thursday’s Times story says the Trump administration might move to replace Tillerson with Pompeo in the next several weeks. Pompeo would reportedly be replaced at the CIA by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been a key presidential ally on national security matters. Cotton is expected to accept the post.

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