US denies that Rex Tillerson was too tired to attend South Korea meetings

Julian Borger in Washington
Rex Tillerson is photographed by a North Korean soldier takes a photograph through a window at the border village of Panmunjom, South Korea. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

The state department has denied a report that Rex Tillerson pulled out of meetings with South Korean officials because of “fatigue”.

A report on the Korea Herald news site said that the US secretary of state had “shortened diplomatic consultations and public events in Seoul” and chosen not to have a meal with Hwang Kyo-ahn, the South Korean acting president, and Yun Byung-se, the country’s foreign minister.

The report compared unfavourably Tillerson’s visit to South Korea with his meetings with Japanese officials, with whom he dined in Tokyo on the previous stop of a three-leg Asian trip.

The state department said the report that Tillerson had been too tired to hold extended meetings was untrue, adding that no joint meal had been scheduled on the Seoul leg of the trip.

During his trip to Korea, Tillerson declared that diplomatic and other efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme over the past 20 years had failed, so the Trump administration would try a tougher approach, without giving details.

News coverage of Tillerson’s first trip to Asia in his new job has been patchy because of his decision to break with the practice of past decades and not travel with journalists. The state department initially said that reporters would not be able to fly with Tillerson because the plane he was travelling in was too small.

It then emerged that one journalist had being allowed on the secretary of state’s plane, from a little-known publication called Independent Journal Review, founded by a former Republican operative.

Erin McPike, the journalist given a seat, made clear she would not be functioning as a “pool” reporter sharing her account of the trip with other media outlets – as is the norm in the US and other western press, for coverage of official events where a limited number of journalists are given access.

Responding to online criticism of the arrangement, McPike tweeted on Friday: “While external advice is noted, I’m working on a longer piece per explicit instructions from my supervisor, and I always have been.”

Tillerson is due to arrive in Beijing on Saturday on the last leg of his Asia trip, which has focused on the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.