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20th of February 2018


Rex Tillerson: ‘Too early’ to say if North Korea talks will happen

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says it’s “too early to judge” whether a lasting diplomatic process between the Trump administration and the North Korean regime will grow from Pyongyang’s current charm offensive toward South Korea around the Winter Olympics.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Mr. Tillerson said Monday, a day after Vice President Mike Pence signaled that the U.S. is ready to talk with the North Koreans, despite ongoing tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile provocations.

Mr. Pence was quoted in an interview published Sunday as saying the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Pyongyang “is going to continue and intensify.”

“But if you want to talk, we’ll talk,” the vice president told The Washington Post, which interviewed with him on his way back from the opening of the Olympics in South Korea over the weekend. He said Washington and Seoul had agreed on terms for further engagement with Pyongyang during two conversations he had with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Mr. Pence reiterated that the U.S. will continue to impose increasing sanctions on the Kim Jong-un regime in the North until it takes clear steps to denuclearize its weapons program, but that the U.S. is willing to talk while exerting the diplomatic and economic pressure.

His comments fit with an administration policy shift on the issue of talks. Administration officials had for months said they would only engage in talks with the Kim regime when Pyongyang had taken steps to denuclearize. But after an early January phone call between President Trump and Mr. Moon in the South, the White House said it was open to talks with the North “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances.”

Mr. Tillerson weighed in on the situation Monday while traveling in Egypt. Asked during a press conference in Cairo about Mr. Pence’s comments, the secretary of state said “it’s up to the North Koreans to decide when they’re ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way.”

“They know what has to be on the table for conversations,” Mr. Tillerson said. “We’re going to need to have some discussions that precede any form of negotiation to determine whether the parties are, in fact, ready to engage in something this meaningful — in order for us to then put together the construct of a negotiation.”

He made the remarks at the start of a weeklong diplomatic trip through the Middle East that will include stops in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Kuwait.

• Dave Boyer contributed to this story.

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