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Tillerson Calls on North Korea to Get in 'Spirit' of Talks by Stopping Missile Launches

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the 10th Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting, part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, in Manila, Philippines, on Aug. 6, 2017. (Mohd Rasfan/Pool Photo via AP)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Manila today that North Korea could send the “best signal” that it wants to resume talks by ceasing its test launches of ballistic missiles.

“We’ve not had an extended period of time where they have not taken some type of provocative action by launching ballistic missiles. So I think that would be the first and strongest signal they could send us is just stop, stop these missile launches,” Tillerson, who is meeting with ASEAN leaders on a trip that also includes Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, told reporters. “Obviously, we have other means of communication open to them, to certainly hear from them if they have a desire to want to talk.”

Asked about whether the latest round of sanctions against Pyongyang will have the desired effect, given North Korea’s race toward nuclear development and the time it takes for sanctions to kick in, Tillerson said that “when do these actually have a practical bite on their revenues… the more important element of that is just the message that this sends to North Korea of how unacceptable the entire international community finds what they’re doing to be.”

“And I think also it sends a strong message to two parties that we think can have some influence on how the North Koreans come to grips with the reality of what they’re facing, that being China and Russia,” he added. “So I think their — again, their support for the Security Council resolution itself I think also sends a message. But I think the world is also expressing a view to China and Russia that we do have an expectation that you will do everything you possibly can to help North Korea understand the reality of the future as well and bring them to the negotiating table.”

The UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed new sanctions that could strip Kim Jong-un’s regime of $3 billion in export revenue annually.

On preconditions for reopening talks with North Korea, Tillerson said “we’ll know it when we see it.”

“We’re not going to give someone a specific number of days or weeks. This is really about the spirit of these talks, and they can demonstrate they’re ready to sit with a spirit of finding a way forward in these talks by no longer conducting these missile tests,” he said. “So this is not a ‘give me 30 days and we’re ready to talk.’ It’s not quite that simple. So it is all about how we see their attitude towards approaching a dialogue with us.”

The secretary of State said one of the next steps is “obviously are to see that the Security Council resolution sanctions are enforced by everyone.”

“We will be monitoring that carefully and certainly having conversations with any and all that we see who may not be fully embracing not just the spirit of those sanctions but the operational execution of those sanctions,” Tillerson said. “And we hope, again, that this ultimately will result in North Korea coming to the conclusion to choose a different pathway, and when the conditions are right that we can sit and have a dialogue around the future of North Korea so that they feel secure and prosper economically.”