One longtime department official, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, said that any move to demote human rights and democracy would risk the foundation of USA leadership in the world. He said that while policies adapt to the situation at hand, values do not.
Mr Patrick Murphy, US State Department's Deputy Assistant Secretary for South-east Asia, who was at the meeting, later told reporters: "We really want to double down and bring the UN Security Council resolutions into full force". "We're not going to leave anybody behind".
But he said this does not mean the United States would refrain from being an advocate for freedom and human rights around the world.
Since before he took office, President Donald Trump's vision of an "America First" foreign policy has been a mystery to USA diplomats tasked with explaining U.S. actions to the rest of the world.
Since President Donald Trump took office, North Korean President Kim Jong-un has fired seven missiles but his provocative actions date back to his installation as leader of that communist country. "I came with a commitment to look at it and see if we can't improve it", Tillerson said. "The values never change".
President Trump's phone conversations with the leaders of the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore on North Korea were also ways of shoring up support against the looming North Korean threat.
He said the USA objective was to cut North Korea's economic ties overseas, including the export of workers, mainly to China and Russian Federation, whose wages are used as a source of foreign income by the cash-strapped government.
"The difference in our approach this time is that we are going to test this assumption ... the assumption was that China has limited influence on the regime in Pyongyang or a limited willingness to assert their influence", he said.
Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and his Southeast Asian counterparts on Thursday discussed the South China Sea dispute with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, reiterating the need for a peaceful resolution amid tensions wrought by China's persistent island-building and militarization activities in the waters.
He called the effort a pressure campaign, with a "dial setting five or six right now".
The top US diplomat also urged other countries to increase financial isolation against North Korea, saying Washington will not hesitate to punish third-country entities and individuals supporting Pyongyang's illegal activities.
While he did not reassure State Department employees about the proposed cuts, Tillerson did thank the diplomats and civil servants for their work and highlighted some of the department's so-called "soft power" initiatives, like health programs in Africa. He says the two US neighbors understand it's time to refresh the relationship.
"Secretary Tillerson underscored that the Asia-Pacific region is a top priority for the Trump Administration and that Asean is an essential partner", it said.
"So we're working hard on that and we're hoping to begin to solve some of that", he said.
Last month, Trump was the first world leader to place a congratulatory phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even as the results were contested on the measure, which critics say could severely diminish Turkey's democratic institutions.
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