Tillerson: US willing to talk with DPRK 'without precondition'

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States is prepared to negotiate with North Korea without preconditions.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the U.S. -Korea relationship during a forum at the Atlantic Council in Washington, U.S. December 12, 2017.

"We're ready to talk whenever North Korea is ready to talk and we're willing to have a first meeting without preconditions", he told a forum here.

"Let's just meet and we can talk about the weather if you want".

Tillerson had acknowledged that it would be unrealistic for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program before talks could begin, as the nation's threat of war is one of its few bargaining chips.

He said his effort to build an global "peaceful pressure" campaign was having an impact, with some countries cutting diplomatic ties to North Korea, but that it took time to build.

Feltman's visit came at a time of heightened tensions between North Korea and South Korea, Japan and the United States, sparked by the reclusive country's frequent missile launches and recent nuclear test explosion, and particularly by its latest launch of a long-range ballistic missile that experts say could reach Washington. "We can talk about whether it's going to be a square table if that's what you are excited about", Tillerson said.

North Korea, for its part, has made clear that it has little interest in negotiations with the United States until it has developed the ability to hit the US mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile, something most experts say it has still not achieved.

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Baik Tae-hyun, spokesman of Seoul's Unification Ministry, said of Tillerson's comments that Seoul wishes for talks to "happen soon" if they contribute to the goal of finding a peaceful solution for the North Korean nuclear problem.

"We are ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk. A honest indication would be the immediate cessation of its provocative threats, nuclear tests, missile launches and other weapons tests", US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Tillerson said in a co-written opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal in August. And then we can begin to lay out a map, a roadmap, of what we might be willing to work towards...

This appeared to represent a softening in the U.S. position, seeing as officials had previously demanded that Kim Jong-Un's regime demonstrate a willingness to consider giving up their arsenal.

"I don't think it's realistic if you say we're only going to talk if you give up your programs", Tillerson continued.

At least half his address was devoted to walking State Department employees through global events of the year, starting with the challenge of North Korea.

Still, the final goal for the administration has not changed, with the ultimate objective continuing to be the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula - and Tillerson said he remains optimistic diplomatic efforts can achieve that. "They have too much invested in it, and the President is very realistic about that as well".

"Let's just meet", the top US diplomat told an audience of around 300.

"That is our commitment we made to them".