With the United States and South Korea engaged in a stepped-up version of their annual Vigilant Ace 18 war games this week featuring 230 U.S. aircraft, including at least one B-1B bomber, U.S. ambassador to China Terry Branstad told CNBC in Beijing Wednesday that North Korea’s “illegal and aggressive development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles … are the biggest threat to humankind right now.”

At the same time, Branstad, the former Republican governor of Iowa, told Bloomberg that talks between the U.S. and North Korea might be possible if the government in Pyongyang will stop testing those weapons. Branstad didn’t say whether Pr*sident Trump had okayed his statement. Two months ago, Trump publicly scolded Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” a sneering reference to North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.  

While Branstad praised China for supporting more sanctions on North Korea, he said more could be done:

“I want to compliment the Chinese for the changes they’ve made in the last three months, they’ve supported both of the resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council and I believe they’re working hard to enforce the sanctions,” he said.

“But I think there’s still more that needs to be done. We need to keep on working together and we share the conviction that we need to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and China and America can play a key role in working with the rest of the world.”

If he and Boss Tweet back in the White House really are serious about talks, one thing Ambassador Branstad (and also U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley) ought to avoid in future interviews and statements is the claim that North Korea’s testing of nukes and missiles is “illegal.” The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned these tests for years, but it has not stated that they violate international law for the simple reason that they don’t.

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