State Dept walks back Tillerson call for talks with N. Korea

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert appeared to walk back statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling for negotiations with North Korea. Nauert said Pyongyang would have to suspend weapons tests before talks could take place.

“We're ready to talk anytime they'd like to talk,” Tillerson said on Tuesday, during a question-and-answer session at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. “We are ready to have the first meeting without preconditions. Let’s just meet.”

On Wednesday, Nauert said that Tillerson’s comments were not an announcement of a shift in US policy. North Korea would have to suspend its weapons program before any talks could talk place, “and we certainly haven't seen that right now,” she said.

Tillerson had signaled that the Trump administration was ready to negotiate without demanding North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs.

“It’s not realistic to say we are only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program," he said. “They have too much invested in it.”

While this was reported as willingness to talk without preconditions, Tillerson’s prepared remarks were clear that Washington expects Pyongyang to make concessions in advance of any negotiations.

“They have to come to the table with the view that that want to make a different choice,” the US secretary of state said, adding he “will continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops.”

Pyongyang would have to suspend nuclear and missile test fo an undefined period of time before any talks could commence, Nauert said Wednesday. An unnamed White House official told Reuters there were additional preconditions without specifying them.

"The administration is united in insisting that any negotiations with North Korea must wait until the regime fundamentally improves its behavior," the official told Reuters, insisting on anonymity. "As the secretary of state himself has said, this must include, but is not limited to, no further nuclear or missile tests."

The US has put in place the “most comprehensive set of economic sanctions that I think that ever have been assembled,” according to Tillerson. He praised the effects of the sanctions, noting that fuel prices have dramatically increased, the country is no longer able to export goods, and that the citizens of North Korea are suffering under the resulting shortages.

He later called the sanctions regime placed on North Korea, “a piece of diplomacy.” North Korea has called them a declaration of war.