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China This Week: White House and Secretary of State Contradict Each Other on North Korea Talks

Dec 18 , 2017

China-US Focus contributor Franz-Stefan Gady posed the following question in his recent article: "Will North Korea's Recent Missile Test Increase Chance of Talks?" It appears that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson thought so.

On Tuesday, Tillerson suggested that the U.S. was ready to talk to North Korea "without preconditions," suggesting a major change in the Trump administration's policy toward North Korea, which to date has required the Kim regime to agree to the precondition that talks "would be aimed at achieving de-nuclearisation" before the U.S. would come to the negotiation table. "Let's just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want, Tillerson said. "But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face."

Tillerson and President Trump have had a long-standing difference of opinion on the issue. In October, the president said that Tillerson was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with North Korea. After the Secretary of State's comments on Tuesday, the White House quickly began to walk back on Tillerson's message, stating on Wednesday that the U.S. is not ready to begin talks with North Korea. "The policy has not changed - I just want to be very clear on that," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

In a separate speech on Tuesday, U.S. national security advisor HR McMaster said the U.S. wanted China to impose economic pressure on North Korea. "We want. . .China to recognise that the time is now to do more beyond existing UN Security Council resolutions," he said. The Chinese government has expressed its preference for a "freeze for freeze" policy, which the U.S. does not support. For China-US Focus, Fan Gaoyue described what that process may look like in reality. He argued that despite continuing disagreements over the best policy for North Korea, the time to act is now. "North Korea is moving very close to the threshold of nuclear miniaturization," he wrote. "Once it crosses the threshold, no country or organization can force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons." By contrast, another China-US Focus contributor, Yue Li, believes that "time is on the side of peace" with North Korea, as the country is "fully aware" that launching a nuclear missile "would be suicidal."

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