Tillerson walks back comments on preconditions for North Korea talks

Days after creating confusion over the Trump administration’s North Korea policy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walked back his comments that the U.S. was ready to meet Kim Jong Un‘s regime for talks “without precondition,” telling the United Nations Security Council Friday that there must first be “a sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behavior… before talks can begin.”

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“North Korea must earn its way back to the table,” Tillerson said. “The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved. We will in the meantime keep our channels of communication open.”

Questions about just where the U.S. stands on talks highlight what have been sharp differences voiced by Tillerson and President Trump on North Korea –and come amid reports the White House wants him out. Tillerson’s comments today also followed the White House and State Department vociferously denying any change in policy.

Tillerson was addressing a special Security Council meeting on the North Korean threat called by the chair country Japan after North Korea fired its third intercontinental ballistic missile on November 28 — a missile capable of reaching the entire continental United States, it said.

The North Korean ambassador to the U.N. sat mere feet away while Tillerson spoke.

Asked afterward about his changed language on whether North Korea must meet preconditions before any talks, Tillerson didn’t answer directly, instead telling reporters the U.S. is “not going to accept preconditions for these talks.” He was referring to proposals by other countries, including one from China and Russia that U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises be halted in exchange for a halt to North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear testing.

Tillerson rejected that idea again and instead appeared to signal that the U.S. was simply waiting for North Korea to show it is serious about engagement.

“Our communication channels remain open. North Korea knows they’re open. They know where the door is. They know where to walk through that door when they want to talk,” he added during the brief press conference.

At the same time, he did not address whether a commitment from North Korea to denuclearize remained a sticking point for the U.S.

All of these questions on what the administration’s policy is began when Tillerson…

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