The US is ready to talk to North Korea over its nuclear disarmament without preconditions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said, in what appeared to be a softening of America's stance toward Pyongyang.
The offer to North Korea comes amid crippling sanctions on the country and just two weeks after another intercontinental ballistic missile test by the reclusive nation.
It also marks a shift from Tillerson's own previous comments that the US would not negotiate its way to the negotiating table with North Korea and that it would only talk once the regime was ready to address its denuclearisation.
"We've said from the diplomatic side we're ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and were ready to have the first meeting without precondition. Let's just meet,"Tillerson said.
He was speaking on 'Meeting the Foreign Policy Challengesof 2017 and Beyond' organised by the 2017 Atlantic Council-Korea Foundation Forum. "And then we can begin to lay out a map, a roadmap ofwhat we might be willing to work towards," he said.
The offer stands in contrast to President Donald Trump's warnings that talks have failed and that Tillerson was wasting his time. Tillerson said it was not workable to demand that North Korea give up its weapons before talks begin.
"It's not realistic to say we are only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They have too much invested in it. And the President is very realistic about that as well," he said in response to a question after delivering his remarks.
However, the White House was quick to assert that there had been no change in the views of the president on North Korea. "The President's views on North Korea have not changed.
North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan,China, and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea's actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good forNorth Korea," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement to the press.
The secretary of state made clear that full North Korean nuclear disarmament would be the ultimate goal of substantive negotiations. He argued that containment was not an option, as an impoverished North Korea would seek to earn money by selling its nuclear weapons on the black market.
"Because we are dealing with a new leader in North Korea that no one ever engaged with. And he clearly is not like his father nor is he like his grandfather, and we don't know a whole lot about what it will be like to engage with him," he said.
"I have to understand how do they process, how do they think. Because getting to an agreement, as all of us know, innegotiations means a willingness to talk about a lot of things," he said. However, he then laid down one condition and said thereshould be a "period of quiet" in which such preliminary talks could take place.
"If there was any condition at all to this, it's that, look, it's going to be tough to talk if, in the middle of ourtalks, you decide to test another device.
It's going to bedifficult to talk if, in the middle of our talks, you decide to fire another one off. So I think they clearly understand thatif we're going to talk, we have to have a period of quiet,"Tillerson said.
North Korea, he noted, can't be treated like other nuclear weapons states. "Many people have asked the question of, well, why can't you live with a containment strategy You lived with it with Russia; you lived with it with China; you lived with it with others," he said.
"The difference is that the past behaviour of NorthKorea, it is clear to us that they would not just use the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
This would become a commercial activity for them. Because we already seeelements of it in the commercial marketplace. And in a world we live in today where our greatest threats are non-state actors, we simply cannot accept that," Tillerson said.
Tillerson's comments came as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed to make North Korea the "world's strongest nuclear power".