Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a dramatic shift from previous U.S. rhetoric on Tuesday, declaring that the United States will not attempt to impose preconditions to diplomatic talks with North Korea.  Tillerson’s frank statements regarding his willingness to engage with Kim Jong Un’s reclusive regime stands in direct contrast of President Trump’s public position to this point, which has been a conspicuously harder line than previous administrations.

In what amounted to a public invitation made my America’s senior diplomat, Tillerson made it clear that early talks do not need to be heavy in content, but rather, his goal is merely to begin with engagement itself.

“We’ve said from the diplomatic side, we’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk,” Tillerson said.  “We are ready to have the first meeting without precondition.  Let’s just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want.”

Tillerson offered this olive branch before the Atlantic Council in Washington, but was certainly aware that his statements would reach the Supreme Leader of what is now arguably a nuclear North Korea.

“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.”

Over the past year, it has sometimes seemed as though the Tillerson led State Department was at odds with the President regarding how best to approach heightening tensions surrounding North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.  Tillerson has continued to work toward engaging North Korea diplomatically, while the president has publicly referred to those efforts as a “waste of time.” When asked for comment on Tillerson’s recent statements regarding the possibility of engaging North Korea in diplomatic talks, the White House was characteristically vague.

“The president’s views on North Korea have not changed,” the White House said. “North Korea is acting in an unsafe way … North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”

White House refutes Tillerson's offer to engage NK in diplomatic talks

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By choosing not to engage the question directly, the White House staff may be attempting to dispel rumors of tensions between Tillerson and Trump, however, it’s also possible that President Trump is hoping to use the reputation he’s cultivated via military action elsewhere in the world, notably giving the order to launch a ballistic missile strike on a Syrian airport following a suspected chemical weapon attack on civilians, to serve as the “bad cop,” to Tillerson’s “good cop” routine.  By engaging North Korea diplomatically, he can offer to keep the aggressive president at bay… but only if the North Koreans are willing to cooperate.

United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman visited Pyongyang a week ago, and though he made it clear that Kim’s regime did not make any clear indications that they’d be willing to move forward in diplomatic talks, he believes there may be a possibility in the future.

“Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we have left the door ajar and I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide,” Feltman said to reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council Tuesday.

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press