WASHINGTON • Officials have downplayed any idea that talks between the United States and North Korea were under way, after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last Saturday that the US was in direct communication with the North.
Yesterday, US President Donald Trump said he told Mr Tillerson not to waste time trying to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Reuters reported.
"I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter, using his nickname for Mr Kim. "Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!"
His comments came after Mr Tillerson's spokesman, Ms Heather Nauert, said: "North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or ready for talks regarding denuclearisation".
A senior administration official said off the record that it would be wrong to "read too much into" Mr Tillerson's remarks, The New York Times (NYT) reported. "The US has always maintained some kind of channel, kept some channel open even in the darkest days of previous administrations."
These include conversations between Mr Joseph Yun, the US State Department's special representative for North Korea, and Mr Pak Song Il, a senior member of Pyongyang's delegation to the United Nations. They met several times this year to discuss US prisoners held by North Korea, among other things.
Other contacts have taken place through the "track two" process, which regularly brings together non-governmental US experts - and occasionally US officials - and North Korean officials, said NYT.
The Trump administration acknowledged last Saturday for the first time that it was in direct communication with the government of North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests, seeking a possible way forward beyond the escalating threats of a military confrontation from both sides, NYT reported.
"We are probing, so stay tuned," Mr Tillerson said in Beijing when pressed about how he might begin talks with Mr Kim.