IN a change in tack from the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered on Tuesday to begin talks with North Korea without any pre-conditions. This includes backing away from previous demands that Pyongyang give up its nuclear arsenal.
“Let’s just meet,” Tillerson said in a speech to Washington’s Atlantic Council think tank, signalling a possible shift in US foreign policy. The United States was “ready to talk any time they’re ready to talk,” he said, adding there would have to be a “period of quiet” without nuclear and missile tests to have productive discussions.
“We’re ready to have the first meeting without pre-conditions,” Tillerson said.
“It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your programme,” he said.
“They have too much invested in it. The president is very realistic about that as well.”
Tillerson’s change in approach comes after months of heightened tensions between the two nations. The North has conducted a series of missile and nuclear tests against the orders of the United Nations, the latest of which was just two weeks ago. North Korean state media claimed it had successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach the US mainland, calling it a “breakthrough” in their ambitious weapons programme.
Following Tillerson’s remarks, the White House issued an ambiguous statement that left unclear whether President Donald Trump – who has said in the past that Tillerson was wasting his time pursuing dialogue with North Korea – had given his approval for the speech
“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.”
Tillerson said in his speech that Trump “has encouraged our diplomatic efforts,” however, the Secretary of State’s standing in the administration, and the president’s faith in him, has been called into question on more than one occasion.
Trump tweeted in October that Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” using his derisive nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Reports also surfaced in November of a possible reshuffle at the State Department with rumours that CIA director Mike Pompeo was set to replace Tillerson in his role as secretary. Trump neither confirmed nor denied the rumours.
In his speech, Tillerson also disclosed that 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, and that Beijing had been given assurances that if US forces had to cross into North Korea they would pull back across the border into South Korea.
Additional reporting by Reuters