The White House appears to be walking back Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s assertion that the U.S. is ready to talk to North Korea when they are.
“Given North Korea’s most recent missile test, clearly right now is not the time,” a White House National Security Council spokesman told Reuters Thursday. The spokesman was referring to North Korea’s recent test of the new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, which can theoretically strike anywhere in the continental U.S.
“We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition,” the secretary of state said Wednesday at the 2017 Atlantic Council-Korea Foundation Forum. “It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They have too much invested in it.”
“Let’s just meet,” he said, calling for face-to-face negotiations so that the U.S. and North Korea “can begin to lay out a roadmap of what we might be willing to work towards.”
“The president’s views on North Korea have not changed,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained in a statement Tuesday evening.
The White House has actually undermined Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts regarding North Korea in the past.
During a trip to Beijing, Tillerson revealed that the U.S. had back channels to North Korea and was probing for opportunities to engage the North in dialogue. Not long after this revelation, President Donald Trump tweeted that attempting to talk to “Rocket Man” Kim Jong Un is a complete waste of time.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” the president tweeted, “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
On other occasions, Trump has expressed an interest in discussions but cast doubt over the possibility of productive talks.
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