“We are ready to have the first meeting without precondition,” Mr Tillerson said in a speech in Washington, DC. “Let's just meet. We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it's going to be a square table or a round table”.
The statement from America’s top diplomatic official underscores the urgency of efforts to blunt the threat of an increasingly belligerent North Korea. Mr Tillerson said any talks would have to occur amid a “period of quiet,” noting that it would be “tough to talk if in the middle of our talks you decide to test another device”.
Rejecting diplomatic entreaties and forging ahead with its weapons programmes despite multiple rounds of United Nations sanctions, Pyongyang has flexed its military muscle by testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and detonating what was likely a hydrogen bomb.
While Donald Trump and his leading officials have consistently held out the possibility of a military confrontation, Mr Tillerson said last month in response to North Korea’s latest test that “diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now,” floating the possibility of additional financial sanctions.
By contrast, Mr Tillerson’s counterpart at the UN, American ambassador Nikki Haley, reacted to the late-November test — in which a missile soared higher than any prior launch before crashing into the sea near Japan — by warning “the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed” if its actions continued to force the world toward war. She had earlier said diplomatic tools were effectively “exhausted”.
Earlier this month, UN diplomat Jeffrey Feltman paid a rare visit to North Korea in an effort to quell tensions.
Contrasting with that diplomatic foray, the United States held joint military drills with South Korea that Pyongyang characteristically blasted as an act of aggression. The country’s foreign ministry called it “confrontational warmongering”.
China, which has chastised both the US and Korea for escalating tensions, has urged America to abandon such drills as a prelude to negotiations.