Tillerson Walks Back Offer of Unconditional Talks With North Korea, Says Regime 'Must Earn Its Way Back to the Table'

December 15, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday walked back his offer from earlier this week to have unconditional talks with North Korea, telling the United Nations Security Council that Pyongyang must "earn" the right to negotiate with Washington.

"As I said earlier this week, a sustained cessation of North Korea's threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin. North Korea must earn its way back to the table," Tillerson said at a special ministerial meeting at the U.N. Security Council. "The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved. We will in the meantime keep our channels of communication open."

Tillerson's words were a noticeable shift from Tuesday, when he said at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. that the U.S. is "ready to have the first meeting without precondition."

"Let's just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want," Tillerson said at the think-tank event. "Talk about whether it's going to be a square table or a round table, if that's what you are excited about. 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 road map of what we might be willing to work towards."

Those comments received instant blowback from the White House.

Tillerson also reemphasized on Friday that the U.S. wants a diplomatic solution to the North Korean issue rather than a military one.

"We have been clear that all options remain on the table in the defense of our nation, but we do not seek nor do we want war with North Korea," Tillerson said. "The United States will use all necessary measures to defend itself against North Korea aggression, but our hope remains that diplomacy will produce a resolution."

America's top diplomat said that North Korea remains the "greatest national security threat" to the U.S. and called on China and Russia to put greater pressure on Pyongyang.

"Upon taking office, President Trump identified North Korea as the United States' greatest national security threat," Tillerson said. "That judgment remains the same today."

"Each U.N. member state must fully implement all existing U.N. Security Council resolutions," Tillerson added. "For those nations who have not done so or who have been slow to enforce Security Council resolutions, your hesitation calls into question whether your vote is a commitment to words only, but not actions."

Tillerson specifically called out Russia and China for cooperating with the North Korean regime.

"We particularly call on Russia and China to increase pressure, including going beyond full implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions," Tillerson said. "Continuing to allow North Korean laborers to toil in slave-like conditions inside Russia in exchange for wages used to fund nuclear weapons programs calls into question Russia's dedication as a partner for peace."

"Similarly, as Chinese crude oil flows to North Korean refineries, the United States questions China's commitment to solving an issue that has serious implications for the security of its own citizens," he said.