US ready ‘anytime’ for direct North Korea talks – Tillerson
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said all that stands between direct diplomacy with North Korea is their willingness "to come to the table" with a desire to "make a different choice."
“We're ready to talk anytime they'd like to talk,” Tillerson said about North Korea on Tuesday afternoon. This shift away from US policy demanding North Korea negotiate on terms of its own disarmament came during the secretary of state's remarks in Washington, DC to the Atlantic Council during an event called Reimagining the US-Republic of Korea Partnership in the Trans-Pacific Century.
He also said that the US has assured China that US troops would return to South Korea afterward if they ever had to cross into North Korean territory.
READ MORE: Pyongyang seeks direct dialogue with Washington, Moscow ready to help – Lavrov
“In the meantime, our military preparedness is strong,” he continued, asserting confidence in himself to prevent war, while also expressing support for Defense Secretary James Mattis should hostilities break out.
The US's stated goals in the region ultimately have not changed, Tillerson made clear.
“Our policy with respect to the DPRK is really quite clear and that is the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson added that China and Russia shared in that goal, though “our tactics for implementing the policy may differ a bit.”
The US has implemented the “most comprehensive set of economic sanctions that I think have ever been assembled,” the top US diplomat continued.
Earlier Tuesday, the US and Japan held one of the largest joint military drills aimed at North Korea yet. American B1-B bombers, F-35 stealth fighter jets and F-18 combat jets were flown along with Japanese F-15 fighters, prompting a warning from Moscow that the exercises would “increase tension” with Pyongyang.
READ MORE: N. Korea declares political & military victory over US as UN targets its human rights record
Iraq & Syria
Tillerson said on Tuesday that the US seeks to “stabilize” the areas of Syria and Iraq liberated from the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) “to avoid a reemergence of ISIS but also to avoid a reemergence of local conflicts between various groups.”
He said the State Department has to catch up with the military to determine “diplomatic plans as to what comes after the defeat of ISIS.”
The US would also work with Russia to “promote deescalation of the violence,” he said.
Saudi Arabia & Pakistan
The secretary of state praised Saudi Arabia for making an effort to counter terrorism, but said the kingdom must “get these messages into the mosque” and “into the madrasas.”
On Pakistan, Tillerson said its relationship with the US had deteriorated over the last decade.
“Our concern is really about Pakistan's stability,” Tillerson said, warning that growth of terrorist groups in the country could cause Pakistan “to lose control of their own country.”