Key breakthrough in U.S.-North Korean relations: SecState Tillerson signals U.S. willingness to talk ‘without preconditions’

In a stunning reversal of Trump administration policy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that the United States would be willing to sit down “face to face” with North Korean leaders to hammer out differences regarding Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs “without preconditions.”

“Let’s just meet and 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 if that’s what you’re excited about,” Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council in Washington Tuesday. “But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face and then we can begin to lay out a map, a roadmap of what we might be willing to work toward?”

Besides representing a shift in previous Trump administration policy, it also differs from Tillerson’s earlier statements when he said the U.S. would not negotiate its way to the negotiating table with North Korea. Previously, the White House has said it would only be interested in talking to North Korea if denuclearization was on the table, something Pyongyang has so far resoundingly rejected.

It’s widely believed that leader Kim Jong-un will persist in developing a nuclear capability as a means of retaining his power and control over the country.

Later, Tillerson added, “If there was any condition at all to this it’s that, ‘Look, it’s going to be tough to talk if in the middle of our talks you decide to test another device.'”

There needed to be a “period of quiet,” he said, “or it’s going to be very difficult to have productive discussions.”

As for denuclearization, Tillerson noted, “It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They have too much invested in it.”

He added that the president feels the same way. “The president is very realistic about that as well,” Tillerson noted.

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Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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