Tillerson says US open to talk if North Korea ready to disarm

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the US is interested in 'finding a way to get to dialogue' with North Korea, but that it will be up to Kim Jong Un, while Defence Secretary Jim Mattis says the US is ready to defend against North Korea.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual report at the State Department in Washington, on Aug 15, 2017.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual report at the State Department in Washington, on Aug 15, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday (Aug 15), after North Korea's Kim Jong Un postponed a threat to fire missiles towards the US territory of Guam, that Washington remains ready for talks.

But the top US diplomat made clear the ball is in North Korea's court.

He said it would be up to Kim when such negotiations would begin, having previously insisted Pyongyang must demonstrate that it accepts it will have to give up its nuclear program.

"I have no response to his decisions at all at this time," Tillerson said, when asked about Kim's decision to hold off.

"We continue to be interested in finding ways to get to dialogue, but that's up to him."

Speaking after the launch of a religious freedom report, Tillerson would not go into more detail as to how North Korea could demonstrate a commitment to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

"North Korea would have to take some very serious steps and show us that they are serious about their interest and intent in denuclearising the Korean peninsula," Tillerson's spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

"It would have to do a lot more. Secretary Tillerson has talked a lot about that. He's also said 'I'm not negotiating my way back to the negotiating table,' and North Korea knows exactly what it has to do."

He has previously said Pyongyang must halt ballistic missile and nuclear tests for an unspecified amount of time before negotiations can begin on how to halt the stand-off and any threat of US military action.

Earlier on Tuesday, the unpredictable and isolated North Korean leader had been briefed by his missile forces on a "plan for an enveloping fire at Guam," according to the North's official KCNA news agency.

But afterwards, according to KCNA, he decided to postpone the operation to "watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees" and not to go ahead unless the US commits more "reckless actions".

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Tillerson penned an opinion piece in the The Wall Street Journal insisting that America has "no interest" in regime change in Pyongyang. "We do not seek an excuse to garrison US troops north of the Demilitarized Zone," they wrote.

"We have no desire to inflict harm on the long-suffering North Korean people, who are distinct from the hostile regime in Pyongyang."

Mattis and Tillerson called on China, which is North Korea's main trading partner, to take advantage of an "unparalleled opportunity" to assert its influence on Pyongyang, and bring its errant neighbour to heel.

The op-ed piece was published on Sunday.