WASHINGTON • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (picture) said the US is prepared to negotiate with North Korea without preconditions, but the Trump administration would first want a “quiet period” without nuclear or missile tests for discussions with Kim Jongun’s regime to begin.
“Let’s just meet. We can talk about the weather if you want,” Tillerson said in a speech on Tuesday at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about.”
Tillerson has regularly called for diplomacy with the isolated nation and the White House played down the prospect of a policy shift. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders followed the remarks by saying Trump’s views hadn’t changed, reflecting that the administration wanted to make clear Tillerson was not signalling a major change in US policy.
“North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China and South Korea, but the entire world,” she said. “North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”
Tillerson said earlier in the day that he’s pleased with the progress so far in ramping up pressure on North Korea, an effort that relies largely on tougher United Nations sanctions and greater cooperation with China. He said more than 22 countries — including Peru and Mexico — have so far sent North Korean diplomats home, and described the new sanctions regime as “extreme”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing yesterday that China welcomed all efforts to resolve the issue through dialogue and hopes the US and North Korea could “walk in the same direction, taking some meaningful steps toward dialogue and contact”.
Meanwhile, US special representative for North Korea policy Joseph Yun is expected to meet today with North Korean Foreign Ministry officials in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Yonhap News Agency reported, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.
“It’s really about how do you begin the process of engagement because we’re dealing with a new leader in North Korea that no one’s ever engaged with,” Tillerson said. “My expectations of how to start is first I have to know who my counterpart is.”
While Tillerson said he was willing to meet North Korean officials, he made clear that the US refuses to accept an outcome that leaves the country with nuclear weapons. North Korea must be ready to “make a different” choice with regard to its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes for talks to continue, Tillerson said.
And while advocates for negotiations will be encouraged by the secretary’s remarks, he was also clear that talks wouldn’t be possible without a pause in testing by the North.