Mon, Oct 02, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Tillerson says US has direct channels to talk to N Korea


US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; left, shakes hands with Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday.

Photo: EPA

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday said that the US is maintaining direct channels of communications with North Korea even as tensions rise over the North’s nuclear and missile programs and the countries’ leaders spar through bellicose name-calling.

Tillerson said the US was probing North Korea’s willingness to talk and called for a calming of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, adding that it was incumbent on the North to halt the missile launches.

“We have lines of communication to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” Tillerson told reporters during a visit to China. “We have a couple ... three channels open to Pyongyang. We can talk to them, we do talk to them.”

No elaboration about those channels or the substance of any discussions came from Tillerson, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and other top officials in Beijing.

While Tillerson affirmed that the US would not recognize North Korea as a nuclear power, he also said the administration of US President Donald Trump had no intention of trying to oust North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“Despite assurances that the United States is not interested in promoting the collapse of the current regime, pursuing regime change, accelerating reunification of the peninsula or mobilizing forces north of the DMZ [Demilitarized Zone], North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization,” US Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war, and the Demilitarized Zone divides North and South Korea.

Since Trump took office in January, the US has restored a diplomatic back-channel between the US Department of State and North Korea’s mission at the UN.

That has traditionally been a way for the two sides to communicate, because they lack formal diplomatic ties.

The main aim of the initial contacts was to seek the freedom of several US citizens imprisoned in North Korea, although US officials have told reporters that there were broader discussions about US-North Korean relations.

However, those contacts have failed to reduce the deep mistrust between the adversaries and it is unclear to what extent they have endured the current spike in tensions.

North Korea has in recent months tested long-range missiles that potentially could reach the US, and on Sept. 3 conducted its largest nuclear test explosion to date.

The standoff has entered a new, more dangerous phase since then as Kim and Trump have exchanged personal insults and threats of war.

“I think the most immediate action that we need is to calm things down,” Tillerson said. “They’re a little overheated right now and I think we need to calm them down first.”

He did not directly address the impact of Trump’s own rhetoric.

“Obviously it would help if North Korea would stop firing off missiles. That would calm things down a lot,” Tillerson said.

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