US listening for signs from N. Korea on talks: Tillerson

United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
South Korean President Moon Jae In
South Korean President Moon Jae In

But he stresses that no incentive is being offered to convince Pyongyang to engage in dialogue

WASHINGTON • US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he is "listening" for signs that North Korea is ready to engage in direct talks.

"My job as chief diplomat is to ensure that the North Koreans know, we keep our channels open," Mr Tillerson told the CBS news show 60 Minutes.

"I am listening. I am not sending a lot of messages back because there is nothing to say to them at this point. So, I am listening for you to tell me you are ready to talk," he said, according to excerpts of the interview that was to air yesterday.

An Olympic-driven thaw in relations between Mr Kim Jong Un's nuclear-armed North Korea and South Korea has raised speculation that direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang could be on the horizon after months of tension.

"They will tell me," Mr Tillerson told 60 Minutes. "We receive messages from them, and I think it will be very explicit as to how we want to have that first conversation."

However, he stressed that no incentive was being offered to get Pyongyang to come to the table.

"We are not using a carrot to convince them to talk, we are using large sticks - and that is what they need to understand," he said. "This pressure campaign is having its bite on North Korea."

CHANNELS OPEN

My job as chief diplomat is to ensure that the North Koreans know, we keep our channels open. I am listening. I am not sending a lot of messages back because there is nothing to say to them at this point. So, I am listening for you to tell me you are ready to talk.

UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON

DIALOGUE NEEDED

The general consensus on the need for dialogue between the US and North Korea is gradually increasing. We are waiting for the current inter-Korean talks to lead to dialogue between the US and North Korea, and to denuclearisation.

SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT MOON JAE IN

The North is subject to a series of United Nations Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The United States has previously indicated that Washington is open to direct talks, but Mr Tillerson stressed earlier this month that the ball is now in Pyongyang's court.

"We have said for some time it is really up to the North Koreans to decide when they are ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way," Mr Tillerson said last Monday while on a stop in Cairo. "They know what has to be on the table for conversations."

Washington says that Pyongyang must take concrete steps towards denuclearisation before talks can begin, while South Korean President Moon Jae In has argued for closer involvement to engage the North in talks.

Mr Moon last week received an invitation from Mr Kim to a summit in Pyongyang. The invitation was extended by the North Korean leader's younger sister Kim Yo Jong, who was part of a high-level delegation attending the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

When he was asked on Saturday about a possible summit, Mr Moon said despite the high hopes that have been raised, that "I think it is a bit rushed".

The Winter Olympics has seen Mr Moon and Mr Kim's younger sister cheering a unified Korean women's ice hockey team, enjoying a concert and dining together.

However, Mr Moon said the so-called "Peace Olympics" have highlighted the need for engagement between Washington and Pyongyang.

"The general consensus on the need for dialogue between the US and North Korea is gradually increasing," he said. "We are waiting for the current inter-Korean talks to lead to dialogue between the US and North Korea, and to denuclearisation."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2018, with the headline 'US listening for signs from N. Korea on talks: Tillerson'. Print Edition | Subscribe