US ready for talks with North Korea without preconditions: Tillerson

PTI Washington | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on December 13, 2017

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the US-Korea relationship during a forum at the Atlantic Council in Washington, US.   -  Reuters

The offer stands in contrast to President Donald Trump’s warnings that talks have failed and that Rex Tillerson was wasting his time.

The US is ready to talk to North Korea over its nuclear disarmament without preconditions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said amid North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s assertion to make his country the “world’s strongest nuclear power”.

The offer to North Korea comes amid crippling sanctions on the country and just two weeks after another provocative intercontinental ballistic missile test by the reclusive nation. It also marks a shift from Tillerson’s own previous comments that the US would not negotiate with North Korea and that it would only talk once the regime was ready to address its denuclearisation. “We’ve said from the diplomatic side we’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition. Let’s just meet,” Tillerson said.

He was speaking on ‘Meeting the Foreign Policy Challenges of 2017 and Beyond’ organised by the 2017 Atlantic Council- Korea Foundation Forum. “And then we can begin to lay out a map, a roadmap of what we might be willing to work towards,” he said.

The offer stands in contrast to President Donald Trump’s warnings that talks have failed and that Tillerson was wasting his time.

Tillerson said it was not workable to demand that North Korea give up its weapons before talks begin. “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. And the President is very realistic about that as well,” he said. in response to a question after delivering his remarks. Tillerson’s comments came as North Korean leader Kim vowed to make North Korea the “world’s strongest nuclear power”.

However, the White House was quick to assert that there had been no change in the views of the president on North Korea. “The President’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. North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement to the press.

The secretary of state made clear that full North Korean nuclear disarmament would be the ultimate goal of substantive negotiations. He argued that containment was not an option, as an impoverished North Korea would seek to earn money by selling its nuclear weapons on the black market. “Because we’re dealing with a new leader in North Korea that no one’s ever engaged with. And he clearly is not like his father nor is he like his grandfather, and we don’t know a whole lot about what it will be like to engage with him,” he said.

“I have to understand how do they process, how do they think. Because getting to an agreement, as all of us know, in negotiations means a willingness to talk about a lot of things,” he said.

However, he then laid down one condition and said there should be a “period of quiet” in which such preliminary talks could take place. “If there was any condition at all to this, it’s that, look, it’s going to be tough to talk if in the middle of our talks, you decide to test another device. It’s going to be difficult to talk if in the middle of our talks, you decide to fire another one off. So I think they clearly understand that if we’re going to talk, we have to have a period of quiet,” Tillerson said.

North Korea, he noted, can’t be treated like other nuclear weapons states. “Many people have asked the question of, well, why can’t you live with a containment strategy? You lived with it with Russia; you lived with it with China; you lived with it with others,” he said.

“The difference is that the past behaviour of North Korea, it’s clear to us that they would not just use the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. This would become a commercial activity for them. Because we already see elements of it in the commercial marketplace. And in a world we live in today where our greatest threats are non-state actors, we simply cannot accept that,” Tillerson said.

North Korea this year increased the pace of its missile programme. Since February, Pyongyang has fired off 23 missiles. On November 29, the North Korean leader said that his country had achieved full nuclear statehood after what he said was the successful test of a new missile capable of striking anywhere in the United States.

Fears of a catastrophic conflict between the US and North Korea spiked as the leaders of the two nations taunted each other, with the US President calling Kim “Rocket Man.”

Published on December 13, 2017
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