WASHINGTON — The United States is ready to start talks with North Korea “without precondition,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday, signaling a potential shift in policy from Washington’s insistence that Pyongyang first halt nuclear and missile tests and show sincerity about denuclearization if talks are to take place.
“We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition,” Tillerson said at a think tank event in Washington.
Tillerson has stressed the importance of attempting dialogue and diplomacy with North Korea, even as President Donald Trump undercut him by saying the time for talk was over and that the leadership in Pyongyang understands only the threat of force.
It is not known if Trump will give his chief diplomat the go-ahead to negotiate with the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions.
“Let’s just meet. We can talk about the weather if you want,” Tillerson said, underscoring the need to begin the process of engagement with North Korea, whose progress in its weapons programs have posed threats to the United States and its allies Japan and South Korea.
“Can we at least sit down and see each other face to face? And then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work towards,” he told the Atlantic Council.
Tillerson said he does not believe Washington should only hold talks with Pyongyang if it comes to the table ready to give up its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
“They have too much invested in it,” he said. “And the president is very realistic about that, as well.”
However, Tillerson stressed the United States’ goal is to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons, saying, “We simply cannot accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.”
In response to his comments, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s “views on North Korea have not changed.”
“North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China and South Korea, but the entire world,” Sanders said in a statement. “North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”
Earlier Tuesday, Trump showed a hardline posture toward Pyongyang.
As he signed into law a $700 billion national defense authorization act, Trump said the legislation allows the U.S. military to pursue greater missile defense capabilities “as we continue our campaign to create maximum pressure on the vile dictatorship in North Korea.”
“We’re working very diligently on that — building up forces,” the commander-in-chief said. “We’ll see how it all turns out. It’s a very bad situation — a situation that should have been handled long ago by other administrations.”
Tensions have been running high since North Korea tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September as part of an effort to develop a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of hitting the mainland United States.
Last month, North Korea test-launched a new type of ICBM it claims could carry a heavy warhead and strike anywhere in the United States.
The Trump administration has promoted a policy of imposing “maximum pressure” on North Korea in concert with the international community to compel the country to halt its provocative acts and engage in credible talks for denuclearization.
The administration says it is keeping all options — including military action — on the table in dealing with the defiant country.