The White House said Wednesday that now is not the time for talks with North Korea, contradicting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s offer a day earlier to begin talks with Pyongyang at any time and without preconditions.
“Given North Korea’s most recent missile test, clearly right now is not the time,” a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council told Reuters and Yonhap News Agency.
Tillerson said Tuesday that the US is “ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk,” and is willing to have the first meeting “without preconditions,” taking a step back from an earlier stance that Pyongyang must first commit to nuclear disarmament before any negotiations with Washington.
“The administration is united in insisting that any negotiations with North Korea must wait until the regime fundamentally improves its behavior,” the NSC spokesperson said. “As the secretary of state himself has said, this must include, but is not limited to, no further nuclear or missile tests.”
For the talks to take place, North Korea must first refrain from further provocations and “take sincere and meaningful actions toward denuclearization,” he said.
Citing Tillerson, the spokesperson said the US will “know it when we see it” as to the right time for talks, adding that “this administration will not repeat the failed policies of the past.”
The US State Department said it remains “on the same page” as the White House.
“The secretary was not creating a new policy. Our policy remains exactly the same as it was,” the department’s spokesperson Heather Nauert said during a regular press briefing. “We remain open to dialogue when North Korea is willing to conduct a credible dialogue on the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Tillerson told a forum in Washington on Tuesday that “it is not realistic” to say the US will only hold the talks if the North is ready to give up its weapons program because “they have too much invested in it.”
Tillerson’s offer for talks with the North came two weeks after Pyongyang fired an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of carrying a warhead to Washington.
China and Russia welcomed Tillerson’s proposal.
Following his speech, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that China welcomed efforts to ease tension and promote dialogue to resolve the North Korea standoff.
Russia also welcomed Tillerson’s statement, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
South Korea’s presidential office said Tillerson’s remarks reiterated Washington’s stance that North Korea must stop provocations and threats, and return to dialogue.
“South Korea and the US have kept the door to dialogue open, and have urged the North on numerous occasions to return to talks. Seoul and Washington have discussed various measures regarding this,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Park Soo-hyun said in a statement Wednesday.
Tillerson mentioned that senior officials of Washington and Beijing have held talks about how to safeguard North Korea’s nuclear arsenal in the event that the regime collapsed.
He said that China told the US that it had made contingency plans to accommodate North Korean refugees in the event of a conflict, and the US also assured China that should US troops cross into North Korea as part of a conflict, they would later “retreat back south of the 38th parallel.”
A senior Cheong Wa Dae official accompanying President Moon Jae-in in his state visit to China told reporters that such discussions must have been held under previous administrations as well.
“We still need to grasp the specifics of Secretary Tillerson’s remarks and what went on between China and the US,” he said.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)