BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States said on Saturday it was directly communicating with North Korea, seeking to start a dialogue with Pyongyang as its advancing nuclear and missile programs stoke fears of an armed confrontation.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the disclosure about the communications during a trip to China and said it was important to find a way to reduce tensions with North Korea.
“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Tillerson told a group of reporters in Beijing.
“We ask: ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout.”
He said that communication was happening directly and cited two or three U.S. channels open to Pyongyang.
“We can talk to them. We do talk to them,” he said, without elaborating about which Americans were involved in those contacts or how frequent they were.
The goal of any initial dialogue would be simple: finding out directly from North Korea what it wants to discuss.
“We haven’t even gotten that far yet,” he said.
Tillerson’s remarks followed a day of meetings in Beijing, which has been alarmed by recent exchanges of war-like threats and personal insults between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump.
”I think the whole situation’s a bit overheated right now,“ Tillerson said. ”I think everyone would like for it to calm down.
“Obviously it would help if North Korea would stop firing off missiles. That’d calm things down a lot.”
South Korean officials have voiced concerns that North Korea could conduct more provocative acts near the anniversary of the founding of its communist party on Oct. 10, or possibly when China holds its Communist Party Congress on Oct. 18.
North Korea is fast advancing toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. It conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3 and has threatened to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.