U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the US is “ready to talk anytime” with North Korea without preconditions, walking away from a key demand that Pyongyang must give up its nuclear arsenal before negotiations.
Mr Tillerson claimed the U.S. “simply cannot accept a nuclear armed North Korea, but appeared to soften the U.S.’s stance towards potential future talks in a speech to Washington’s Atlantic Council think tank on Tuesday (local time).
“Let’s just meet,” he said.
“Let’s talk about the weather if you want and talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about.”
“Then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work towards.”
He insisted however that there needed to be a “period of quiet” first without any nuclear or missile tests.
Mr Tillerson’s comments came nearly two weeks after North Korea said it had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that had put the United States within range of its nuclear weapons.
However, the White House said President Donald Trump did not change his views on North Korea.
“The president’s views on North Korea have not change,” 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.”
Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and North Korea have been straining by Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests, as well as a war of words between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
However, Kim vowed ahead of Mr Tillerson’s speech to develop more nuclear weapons while personally decorating scientists and officials who contributed to the development of Pyongyang’s most advanced ICBM, according to North Korean state media.
He said on Tuesday the scientists and workers would continue to manufacture “more latest weapons and equipment” to “bolster up the nuclear force in quality and quantity”.
Mr Tillerson said economic and diplomatic sanctions would continue until “the first bomb drops”, while Mr Trump still wanted Pyongyang’s main economic ally China to cut off oil supplies to North Korea.
He said China had made contingency plans to accommodate North Korean refugees if a conflict arose, a major concern for China.
The United Nations’ political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said senior North Korean officials did not offer any commitment to talks but believes the door had been left open for discussions.
“They agreed that it was important to prevent war,” he said in his first briefing since his four day trip last week.
“Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we have left the door ajar and I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide.”