U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Japan on the first leg of a three-nation trip to Asia that is designed to reassure allies and discuss ways to counter growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.
As Tillerson travels to meet with foreign leaders in Japan, South Korea and China, he will not be accompanied by the usual throng of reporters from news organizations that traditionally have traveled with the secretary of state.
Instead, only one reporter, Erin McPike of the conservative leaning website the Independent Journal Review, was chosen to travel with Tillerson on this trip.
One reporter selected
Under intense questioning from beat reporters Wednesday, acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said McPike was selected by a group of decision makers in an attempt "to look at outside the box approaches to how we handle coverage of the secretary."
Toner tried to reassure inquiring reporters the media will "have broad access" to Tillerson. He said 23 journalists, including 17 from the U.S., will have access during media availibilities.
But when asked if McPike will have access to Tillerson when other reporters will not, Toner could not respond definitively. "I can't speak to what additional access may be provided to this reporter," he said.
Tillerson changes planes
The State Department originally said Tillerson would not take journalists with him because the plane he was traveling on was too small. He ended up taking a Boeing 737, which could have accommodated some of the regular agency reporters, each of whom is required to cover his or her own costs.
The secretary of state has scheduled meetings Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
He goes Friday to South Korea for talks with acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, but is not scheduled to meet with any opposition figures in the country that is holding elections for a new leader in May.
Need for increased pressure
Japan and South Korea, which host U.S. troops and are already within range of North Korean missiles, support U.S. efforts to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang. A statement by the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet said the three allies were conducting drills Wednesday in seas east of the divided Korean Peninsula and north of Japan to promote interoperability.
The final leg of Tillerson's trip is in China, where his chief objective is meeting with President Xi Jinping to lay the groundwork for a summit between Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump, which is expected to take place in early April in Florida.