Washington: The United States is ready to talk to North Korea “without preconditions” but remains determined to force it to abandon its nuclear arsenal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday. China and Russia responded positively to Tillerson’s remarks, even after the White House appeared to put his proposal in question by saying that US President Donald Trump’s “views on North Korea have not changed.”
While White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not spell out the president’s views, Trump in the past has chided his secretary of state for “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with Pyongyang.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China took note of Tillerson’s remarks and expressed hope that the United States and North Korea take “meaningful steps towards dialogue and contact.”
“We welcome all efforts that are conducive to easing tension and resolving differences through dialogue,” Lu said.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists: “We can state that such constructive statements impress us far more than the confrontational rhetoric that we have heard up to now. Undoubtedly this can be welcomed.”
Even as Tillerson stressed the importance of a negotiated end to the standoff, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un vowed to make his nation “the strongest nuclear power and military power in the world.”
Trump has promised that Kim will not be allowed to complete his effort to develop nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching mainland US cities.
To this end, Tillerson has overseen a global diplomatic effort to isolate Pyongyang and stifle its economy through UN sanctions and, ultimately, the threat of US military force.
In two public appearances on Tuesday, he warned that these efforts would continue until “the first bomb drops” and that Washington “simply cannot accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.”
But he said the door to talks with Kim’s regime was open, and left the opening wider than he had before, backing away from his former insistence that Pyongyang accept in principle to disarm.
“We’re ready to have the first meeting without preconditions,” Tillerson told a meeting of the Atlantic Council policy forum, speaking of the possibility of laying out a roadmap of goals. “It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your programme. They have too much invested in it.”
A senior UN official returning from Pyongyang said that North Korean officials had told him it was important to prevent war but offered no concrete proposal for talks.
“They agreed that it was important to prevent war,” Jeffrey Feltman, the UN’s political affairs chief, told reporters after briefing the Security Council on his trip.
Feltman met with North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho and Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong-Kuk during his visit to Pyongyang over the weekend — the first by a high-ranking UN official since 2011.
Some in Washington see Tillerson’s latest rhetoric as a climbdown.
Sanctions expert Anthony Ruggiero, of the hawkish Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said talks should not begin until the US has a way to verify nuclear testing is not continuing.