News & Politics

Tillerson: U.S. in Direct Contact with North Korea

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson disclosed that the U.S. is in direct contact with the government of North Korea with the goal of starting a dialogue.

Reuters:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the disclosure about the communications during a trip to China and said it was important to find a way to reduce tensions with North Korea.

“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 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.

Tillerson’s remarks followed a day of meetings in Beijing, which has been alarmed by recent exchanges of war-like threats and personal insults between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump.

”I think the whole situation’s a bit overheated right now,“ Tillerson said. ”I think everyone would like for it to calm down.

“Obviously it would help if North Korea would stop firing off missiles. That’d calm things down a lot.”

South Korean officials have voiced concerns that North Korea could conduct more provocative acts near the anniversary of the founding of its communist party on Oct. 10, or possibly when China holds its Communist Party Congress on Oct. 18.

North Korea is fast advancing toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. It conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3 and has threatened to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.

This is exactly what North Korea wants. They are convinced that the end result of any direct talks with the United States would be a tacit acknowledgment by the U.S. of their nuclear program. It’s either that or war. There is no middle ground in this dispute. The North Koreans think that if they stick to their guns long enough, the U.S. will be forced to accept them as a member of the nuclear club, giving them the legitimacy on the world stage that Kim craves.

After all that he’s said, it’s hard to see Trump acquiescing to this situation. The president could reignite tensions in the region with a few choice tweets and may yet do that. But Tillerson has probably been getting an earful from his Chinese hosts the last few days about North Korea and is trying one more round of diplomacy before the clock strikes midnight.

I wouldn’t read too much into these overtures. Even the Chinese must realize their futility. In the end, it will be up to Beijing whether North Korea takes the steps necessary to prevent war.