Tillerson says US now in direct contact with North Korea

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson disclosed that the US government is in direct contact with North Korea in an effort to jump start talks on their nuclear program.


The disclosure by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a trip to China represented the first time he has spoken to such an extent about U.S. outreach to North Korea over its pursuit of a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

“We are probing so stay tuned,” Tillerson told a group of reporters in Beijing.

“We ask: ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout.”

He said that communication was happening directly and cited two or three U.S. channels open to Pyongyang.

“We can talk to them. We do talk to them,” he said, without elaborating about which Americans were involved in those contacts or how frequent or substantive they were.

The goal of any initial dialogue would be simple: finding out directly from North Korea what it wants to discuss.

“We haven’t even gotten that far yet,” he said.

Trying to tamp down expectations, the State Department said later there were no signs Pyongyang was interested in talks.

“North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization,” department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Tillerson previously had offered little detail about U.S. outreach. On Sept. 20, he acknowledged only “very, very limited” contact with Pyongyang’s U.N. envoy.

When asked about Tillerson’s assertion and what communication there might be between Pyongyang and Washington, a spokesman for the North Korean mission to the United Nations said he “can’t go further into detail.”

Tillerson referred to the situation with North Korea as "overheated" - an understatement, to be sure. But we have to assume that Tillerson has gotten a lot of advice from the Chinese about toning down the rhetoric and looking for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Unfortunately, there's none to be had. North Korea's endgame has always included direct talks with the US - talks that would eventually end with the United States acknowledging their nuclear program. The US accepting the fait accompli of North Korean nukes is not possible at this point and it's hard to see how it will ever play out that way.

So is North Korea playing for time? Their only real hope is that pressure from the rest of the world on the US not to go to war will keep the regime intact. But as long as Kim keeps firing off missiles and testing nukes, he runs the risk of alienating the entire planet, making a US strike a certainty.