Tillerson says U.S. won't set preconditions for North Korea talks

Frederick Owens
December 13, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during a press conference at the 2017 Atlantic Council-Korea Foundation Forum that while the U.S. and Russian Federation do not have a working relationship at the moment, President Trump believes it is extremely important to establish one.

"We are ready to have the first meeting without precondition", Mr Tillerson said in a speech in Washington, DC.

Mr Tillerson spoke on Tuesday to the U.S. diplomatic corps at a town hall meeting amid low morale and widespread concerns about his planned overhaul of the State Department. "We want you to make a different approach". "We can talk about whether it's going to be a square table or a round table", he said. Speaking at the Atlantic Council Korea Foundation Forum in Washington on Tuesday, Tillerson said it's unrealistic to say the US would only engage in dialogue with Pyongyang on the condition the regime abandons its nuclear development program.

It will also be tough to talk, Tillerson says, if North Korea continues to fire off missiles or test nuclear devices. "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 [President Trump] is very realistic about that as well".

Yet it was Tillerson's designs for the State Department and its workforce of 75,000 around the world that brought stone-faced diplomats to a Washington auditorium to hear from Tillerson directly what changes are in store.

Later the president's press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement saying, "The President's views on North Korea have not changed". He said Trump is calling on China to cut off the flow of oil to North Korea to accelerate that effort.

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Tillerson's comments appeared to deviate from previous statements by senior United States officials that North Korea would have to show it is serious about discussing nuclear disarmament before formal talks could begin.

Tillerson also addressed the U.S.'s relationship with China amid the tension with North Korea.

Tillerson also said that the United States was working to tighten enforcement of global 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 is needed. Tillerson called on North Korea to show restraint "It's going to be tough to talk if in the middle of our talks you chose to test another device", he said.

"The most important thing to us would be securing those nuclear weapons that they have already developed and ensuring that nothing falls into the hands of people who we would not want to have it". But in a pivot from a tenant of President Donald Trump's policy towards the country, the US' top diplomat said he would be willing to come to the table without such a promise from the North Koreans.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Tillerson's proposal for direct talks with North Korea without preconditions was overdue and a welcome shift in position, but both sides needed to demonstrate restraint.

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