Tillerson says U.S. ready to talk to
North Korea; Japan wants pressure
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[December 13, 2017]
By David Brunnstrom and Christine Kim
WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson offered to begin direct talks with North Korea
without pre-conditions, backing away from a key U.S. demand that
Pyongyang must first accept that giving up its nuclear arsenal would be
part of any negotiations.
Tillerson's new diplomatic overture comes nearly two weeks after North
Korea said it had successfully tested a breakthrough intercontinental
ballistic missile (ICBM) that put the entire United States mainland
within range of its nuclear weapons.
"Let's just meet," Tillerson said in a speech to Washington's Atlantic
Council think tank on Tuesday.
The White House later issued an ambiguous statement that left unclear
whether President Donald Trump - who has said Tillerson was wasting his
time pursuing dialogue with North Korea - had given his approval for the
"The president's views on North Korea have not changed," the White House
said. "North Korea is acting in an unsafe way ... North Korea's actions
are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea."
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China
welcomed all efforts to ease tension and promote dialogue to resolve the
China hopes the United States and North Korea can meet each other
halfway and take meaningful steps on dialogue and contact, he told
Ahead of Tillerson's speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to
develop more nuclear weapons while personally decorating scientists and
officials who contributed to the development of Pyongyang's most
advanced ICBM, state media said on Wednesday.
Kim said on Tuesday the scientists and workers would continue
manufacturing "more latest weapons and equipment" to "bolster up the
nuclear force in quality and quantity", the KCNA news agency said.
"PERIOD OF QUIET"
While reiterating Washington's long-standing position that it cannot
tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, Tillerson said the United States
was "ready to talk any time they're ready to talk", but there would
first have to be a "period of quiet" without nuclear and missile tests.
United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman, who visited
Pyongyang last week, said senior North Korean officials did not offer
any type of commitment to talks, but he believed he left "the door
"Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we
have left the door ajar and I fervently hope that the door to a
negotiated solution will now be opened wide," Feltman told reporters
after briefing the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.
Not everyone is ready for talks.
Japan has advocated a strategy of pressuring North Korea through
sanctions to give up its nuclear weapons. Tokyo and Washington are in
"100 percent" agreement on that stance, Chief Cabinet Secretary
Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday, when asked about Tillerson's comments.
A former Japanese diplomat said that, while a diplomatic solution was
the "only acceptable solution", now was not the time for talks.
"We have to see the effects of sanctions on life in North Korea," the
former diplomat, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
"I heard that they are having a serious impact on everyday life. Let's
wait and see. If we were to hint anything for dialogue, we'd be losing
[to top of second column]
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the
U.S.-Korea relationship during a forum at the Atlantic Council in
Washington, U.S. December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
South Korea continued military exercises with the United States to
check military readiness, exercises the North describes as
preparation for war. The South's army said separately on Wednesday
it conducted a successful air-to-air missile firing drill from
U.S. TALKS TO CHINA
Tillerson also disclosed the United States had been talking to China
about how to secure North Korea's nuclear weapons in the event of a
collapse of the government in Pyongyang. He said Beijing had been
given assurances that if U.S. forces had to cross into North Korea
they would pull back across the border into the South.
Chinese spokesman Lu would not directly answer a question about
those comments, but said China had always clearly told all its
interlocutors on the issue that "There can be neither war nor chaos"
on the Korean peninsula.
Tillerson made clear that the United States wants to resolve the
North Korea standoff through peaceful diplomacy and, in terms far
more tempered than Trump's recent threats against Pyongyang, offered
to hold exploratory talks.
"We can talk about the weather if you want," he said. "We can talk
about whether it's going to be a square table or a round table. Then
we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be
willing to work towards."
Tillerson - whose influence has appeared to wane within the
administration - said Trump "has encouraged our diplomatic efforts".
Trump said on Twitter in October that Tillerson was "wasting his
time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man", using his derisive
nickname for Kim.
North Korea, for its part, has made clear it has little interest in
negotiations with the United States until it has developed the
ability to hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile,
something most experts say it has still not proved.
Tillerson also said the United States was working to tighten
enforcement of international sanctions against North Korea,
especially further measures that China can apply, and that
Washington had a full menu of military options if such a response
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the non-partisan Arms Control
Association, said Tillerson's proposal was overdue but added, "In
order to get to such talks going, the U.S. side as well as North
Korea must demonstrate more restraint".
For multimedia cover on North Korea:
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON, Michelle
Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS, Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Tim
Kelly and Linda Sieg in TOKYO; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by
Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)
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