Secretary Tillerson acknowledges Washington has channels open to Pyongyang for starting direct talks

[ Originally published on this site as post ]

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Beijing for three days of talks on trade, investment, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons, hinted Saturday at the possibilities of a retreat from the overheated, bellicose threats that have recently characterized interactions between North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and Pr*sident Donald Trump. Tillerson acknowledged at a press conference that the United States is in direct communication with North Korea’s leaders, noting that it has a ”couple, three channels open to Pyongyang” and seeks a dialogue with the latest addition to the world’s nuclear weapons nations.

David E. Sanger at The New York Times reports:

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said, when pressed about how he might begin a conversation with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that could avert what many government officials fear is a significant chance of open conflict between the two countries.

“We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” he added. “We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang,” a reference to North Korea’s capital.

Given the tensions and trepidation caused by what one highly respected retired U.S. admiral recently said is the closest the world has come to a possible nuclear exchange since the Cuban missile crisis 55 years ago, It might be tempting to make too much of Tillerson’s remarks. But they do at least offer hope there will be no need to spruce up the abandoned backyard bomb shelters some Americans built in the 1950s and ‘60s as the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union ratcheted up and thousands of nuclear warheads were manufactured and put on hair-trigger alert by both sides. 

But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.

At this stage there’s no reason to believe that Trump will back off from calling Kim a “madman” or that Kim will stop labeling Trump a “dotard” and “deranged,” with both men spouting off about blasting the other with the first nuclear weapons delivered in anger since the United States flattened half of Nagasaki, Japan, 72 years ago. On Saturday, for instance, North Korean state media issued a statement that said Trump was heading for a “suicidal act of inviting a nuclear disaster that will reduce America to a sea of flames.” 

Jonathan Kaiman and Jessica Meyers at the Los Angeles Times report:

Tillerson also said it was essential “to calm things down” between North Korea and the United States and its allies. Asked if that pertained to Trump as well, Tillerson told reporters, “I think the whole situation is a bit overheated right now. I think everyone would like for it to calm down.”