On reining in the nuclear program in North Korea, he described the effort to apply international pressure to further isolate Pyongyang as “a pressure campaign that has a knob on it.”
“I’d say we’re at about dial setting 5 or 6 right now, with a strong call of countries all over the world to fully implement the U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding sanctions, because no one has ever fully implemented those,” he said.
He said the next higher settings could involve penalizing countries that continue to defy United Nations sanctions on trade with North Korea. But he said a big part of the campaign is “leaning hard into” China, and testing how much influence China has on Pyongyang.
As for speaking directly with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, as President Trump recently suggested he would be willing to do, Mr. Tillerson said North Korea needed to demonstrate its readiness for such a dialogue.
Mr. Tillerson said the United States and China would soon begin a high-level dialogue. Mr. Tillerson said he and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would lead negotiations in June with high-level Chinese officials on diplomatic and security issues, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would oversee talks on economic and trade issues after that.
“We want to take a fresh look at where’s this relationship going to be 50 years from now,” Mr. Tillerson said.
On Russia, Mr. Tillerson was far less optimistic, describing a relationship that has reached a low ebb. Speaking less than 24 hours after Mr. Trump spoke on the phone with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia about working together to broker a cease-fire in Syria, Mr. Tillerson set his sights low, saying that resolving even small irritants would be progress.
“Today, there’s almost no trust between us,” he said.
Mr. Tillerson said many global organizations had not truly adjusted to the end of the Cold War — and he seemed to include the State Department on the list of institutions stuck in the past.
He urged employees to help him streamline the department so it could deal better with the world today, rather than as it was during the Cold War.
But Mr. Tillerson offered few specifics for a staff deeply anxious about a proposed budget that would cut outlays 31 percent and that aides to Mr. Tillerson have said could eliminate about 2,300 jobs, or about 3 percent of the department’s 75,000 employees. The reductions are expected to be achieved through attrition.
Mr. Tillerson said he had yet to settle on even a basic organizational structure. An employee survey and hundreds of employee interviews over the coming weeks will be needed before he can begin filling the department’s top leadership positions, he said.
Mr. Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, has suffered embarrassing stumbles and surprising reversals in his brief tenure at the State Department. But on Wednesday, he touched on a range of issues as he walked confidently around the stage, and he received thunderous applause when he was done.
The remarks were the bookend to his first speech to the department, which he delivered the first time he entered its Foggy Bottom headquarters after being confirmed. In that address, Mr. Tillerson promised to explore ways to make the department more efficient.