US ready for talks with NK 'without preconditions'

The US 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 has said.

The United States is ready to talk to North Korea “without preconditions” but remains determined to force it to abandon its nuclear arsenal, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said.

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.”

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said yesterday that China took note of Tillerson’s remarks and expressed hope that the US and North Korea take “meaningful steps toward 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 government was open, and left the opening wider than he had before, backing away from his former insistence that North Korea 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 program. They have too much invested in it.”

Earlier, in an end-of-year speech to State Department staff and US diplomats, Tillerson stressed the importance of the sanctions regime in forcing North Korea to the table.

And Tillerson added that he would see it as a personal failure if his efforts came up short and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is forced to take military action to deny the North its arsenal.

But even if Tillerson remains “confident” that the US strategy is paying off, there was little sign of this in Pyongyang, where Kim gave a typically bellicose speech to workers.

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