US in direct contact with N. Korea
Tillerson won’t say if regime has responded to overtures for dialog
For the first time, the Trump administration acknowledged Saturday that it is in “direct contact” with the North Korean government and has asked Pyongyang whether they would like to discuss their missile and nuclear tests.
“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Beijing when asked how the U.S. might start a dialog with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout. We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang,” he said.
The secretary spoke to reporters at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Beijing after meeting with President Xi Jinping and other top Chinese leaders.
According to an Associated Press report in August, the U.S. and North Korea had been engaged in quiet discussions for months with regular diplomatic contact between the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy and a senior North Korean diplomat at the country’s U.N. mission.
The public acknowledgment of contact with Pyongyang follows increasingly sharp verbal exchanges and insults between the two countries in recent weeks over North Korea’s latest nuclear and missile threats.
The exchanges have included threats by North Korea to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific and to shoot down U.S. military aircraft off its coast. The U.S. has threatened a swift response.
President Donald Trump referred to Kim Jong Un as “little rocket man” and tweeted last week that the North “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps issuing threats.
Tillerson would not say if the North Koreans had responded to the U.S. overture for talks.
“We can talk to them,” he said. “We do talk to them.” Asked if the lines of communication run through China, he said, “directly,” adding, “we have our own channels.”
The secretary said it was important to lower the temperature after weeks of threats and counter-threats with Pyongyang.
“The whole situation is a bit overheated right now,” he said. “Obviously it would help if North Korea would stop firing its missiles, that would calm things down a lot.”