BEIJING • The Trump administration acknowledged yesterday for the first time that it is in direct communication with the government of North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests.
"We are probing, so stay tuned," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said when asked how he might begin a conversation with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
"We ask, 'Would you like to talk?' We have lines of communications to Pyongyang - we're not in a dark situation, a blackout. We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang," he added, speaking at the residence of the US ambassador to Beijing after a meeting with China's top leadership.
"We can talk to them," Mr Tillerson said, "We do talk to them." When asked whether those channels ran through China, he shook his head. "Directly," he said. "We have our own channels."
His comments marked the first sign that the Trump administration has been trying its own version of what the Obama administration did with Iran: using a series of back-channel, largely secret communications that, after years of negotiation, resulted in a nuclear accord.
But Mr Tillerson was quick to distinguish the very different circumstances of North Korea and Iran - Pyongyang has nuclear weapons, Teheran just a programme that could have led to them - and then added: "We are not going to put together a nuclear deal in North Korea that is as flimsy as the one in Iran."
Speaking less than an hour after he left a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr Tillerson said the most important thing was to lower the temperature between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump.
"The whole situation is a bit overheated right now. If North Korea would stop firing its missiles, that would calm things down a lot," he said.