Tillerson said that while the US values remain constant, its policies can adapt.
“If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we’ve come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson on Wednesday outlined for his staff how an “America First” agenda translates into foreign policy, but did not address the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts, which worry many diplomats.
It was the first time Tillerson had addressed all employees since his first day on the job on Feb. 2, when he spoke to hundreds of State Department officials in the building’s lobby, and the most thorough explanation yet of the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy.
Some allies and even some U.S. officials have interpreted Republican President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda, which puts Americans’ interests at home ahead of those of its partners overseas, as a threat to retreat from the world.
Tillerson said U.S. foreign policy priorities had gotten “a little bit out of balance” in the previous decades, with the United States too focused on promoting economic activity and trade with emerging economies.
illerson gave a tour of U.S. priorities around the world, including in East Asia, Russia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere, omitting Europe.
With regard to North Korea’s nuclear program, Tillerson said the administration is willing to use so-called secondary sanctions to target foreign companies that continue to do business with Pyongyang in contravention of United Nations sanctions.
The pressure campaign on North Korea is “at about dial setting 5 or 6 right now,” Tillerson said.
On China, Tillerson said the United States has a “tremendous opportunity” to define its relationship with the superpower for the next several decades, and that he sensed great interest by the Chinese leadership to do that as well.
He and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will chair a dialogue with their Chinese counterparts in June, in addition to a dialogue focused on economics and trade and led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Tillerson said he had told Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow last month that U.S.-Russia relations were at their lowest point since the Cold War.