Columns

Tillerson: 'We're Waiting on North Korea' to Want to Talk

Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, right speaks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before a meeting in Ottawa on Dec. 19, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Trump administration is willing to talk with North Korea but is waiting for Kim Jong-un to make the first move.

Tillerson said last week he’s ready to talk with North Korea sans any preconditions about their nuclear program, prompting the White House to come back with a statement stressing “the president’s views on North Korea have not changed.” The secretary told the Atlantic Council’s Korea Foundation Forum that “the diplomacy is underway” with Pyongyang and “it has been underway.”

At a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday with his Canadian counterpart, Tillerson said the U.S., along with Canada and other allies, is looking for “ways to advance the pressure campaign against North Korea, to send North Korea a unified message from the international community that we will not accept you as a nuclear nation, a nuclear weapons nation, and that all of us share one policy and one goal, and that is the full, complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

A Vancouver meeting of foreign ministers in mid-January will be discussing, “How do we improve the effectiveness of the current pressure campaign? Are there other steps that could be taken to put additional pressure on the regime in North Korea, and how do we further take our diplomatic efforts forward? And then how do we prepare for the prospects of talk?”

“Now, we can’t talk unless North Korea is ready to talk. And I think as we’ve indicated, we’re waiting for them to indicate a readiness to talk,” Tillerson added. “But what’s important for North Korea to know is that this pressure campaign will not abate. We will not be rolling any of it back. It will only be intensified as time goes by. And it will remain in place until they agree to give up their nuclear weapons and allow us to verify that, in fact, that is what they have done.”

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the upcoming Vancouver meeting will be “an opportunity to advance our work on diplomatic efforts towards a more peaceful, prosperous, and nuclear-free future on the North Korean Peninsula and to demonstrate international solidarity in our condemnation of North Korea’s actions.”

Freeland said she and Tillerson believe it’s important “to demonstrate to North Korea that this is truly a global issue, that the international community is united in condemning North Korea’s actions and in understanding them as a threat to our shared security.”

Tillerson clarified that the White House has “not rejected diplomatic talks.”

“What the White House has merely observed is that North Korea has not exhibited a willingness to talk,” he added.”…The White House supports diplomatic talks. The observation that’s being made — and I would agree with the observation — is we’re waiting on North Korea to come to that conclusion. And until they do, the pressure campaign will only intensify.”

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told BBC on Tuesday that the U.S. will kill North Korea’s nuclear program by force, if necessary.

“We’re committed to a resolution. We want the resolution to be peaceful – but as the president has said, all options are on the table,” McMaster said. “We have to be prepared, if necessary, to compel the denuclearization of North Korea without the co-operation of that regime.”

The chance of war, he said, could change “based on what we all decide to do.”

“North Korea is a grave threat to all civilized people across the globe,” McMaster said.