Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday at a United Nations meeting on North Korea said the regime must “earn its way back to the table,” seemingly contradicting comments he made earlier this week when he said the U.S. is ready for talks with North Korea “without preconditions.”
But the top U.S. diplomat on Friday insisted that earlier this week he also called for North Korea to end its aggressive stance before talks can begin.
“We have been clear that all options remain on the table in the defense of our nation,” Tillerson said at the Friday meeting. “But we do not seek, nor do we want, war with North Korea. The United States will use all necessary measures to defend itself against North Korean aggression, but our hope remains that diplomacy will produce a resolution.”
“As I said earlier this week, a sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin,” Tillerson continued. “North Korea must earn its way back to the table. The pressure campaign must and will continue, until denuclearization is achieved. We will in the meantime keep our channels of communication open.”
But Tillerson on Tuesday at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., indicated talks could begin anytime, “without preconditions.”
“When do the talks begin? We have said, from the diplomatic side, we are ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk. And we are ready to have the first meeting without preconditions. Let’s just meet,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson added Tuesday, “We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk whether it is going to be a square table or a round table if that is what you are excited about.”
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Those comments caused a stir, given that they departed from the general U.S. stance on talks with the North Korean regime.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster also insisted the “reporting” of Tillerson’s earlier comments this week was inaccurate, even though the comments came directly from the secretary of state.
McMaster on Wednesday framed the proposal for possible talks as part of a process, not an end in and of itself.
“I know there’s some reporting yesterday about Secretary Tillerson said we’re open to initiating negotiations, but those negotiations are not—or talks, you know—would be, are not an end in and of themselves, and there would be no preconditions to those—when he said there will be no preconditions, what that means is, we’re not going to alleviate, we’re not going to relieve any pressure on North Korea or give in to any demands they might make for payoffs,” McMaster said Wednesday in remarks at the Jamestown Foundation.
Later in a press availability on Friday, Tillerson said the U.S. will not accept other nations’ preconditions for talks. Tillerson said the “president’s policy on North Korea is quite clear and there is no daylight” between the president’s approach and how it is implemented. The secretary of state said the president wants to continue to put pressure on North Korea that is “intended to lead to diplomatic talks,” and communication channels remain “open.”
“They know where the door is,” Tillerson said of North Korea. “They know where to walk through that door when they want to talk.”
North Korea has carried out three nuclear tests and launched a number of ballistic missiles over the last two years.