UN official says North Koreans agree on importance of avoiding war

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UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said on Tuesday that senior North Korean officials told him it was important to prevent war but they did not commit to talks.

Feltmen met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk during a four-day visit to Pyongyang. It was the highest level UN visit to North Korea since 2011.

“Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we have left the door ajar and I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide,” Feltmen said after a closed door briefing at the UN Security Council.

“They listened seriously to our arguments … They did not offer any type of commitment to us at that point,” said Feltman. “They agreed it was important to prevent war… How we do that was the topic of 15-plus hours of discussions.”

The former US diplomat said the secretive state needed time to “digest and consider” and that he believed Ri would brief North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Feltman said he requested North Korea consider “talks about talks” and possibly open up “technical channels of communication, such as the military-to-military hotline, to reduce risks, to signal intentions, to prevent misunderstandings and manage any crisis.”

Tillerson drops preconditions for talks 

In an apparent reversal of policy, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that the United States was willing to engage in talks with North Korea without preconditions.

“We are ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk. And we are ready to have the first meeting without preconditions,” Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

The United States’ previous positon was that North Korea would have to come to the negotiating table ready to give up on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“Let’s just meet and we can talk about the weather if you want to. We can talk about whether it’s a square table or a round table if that’s what you are excited about,” Tillerson said. “But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work towards.”

However, he said that North Korea would need to halt nuclear and ballistic missile testing for a period before talks begin. The policy has the support of President Donald Trump, he added.

Trump’s messages

While the United States’ objective remains a denuclearized Korean peninsula, Tillerson said it was “not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They’ve too much invested in it. The president is very realistic about that as well.”

Trump has sent mixed messages on North Korean strategy and previously suggested the time for “strategic patience” is over. 

In October, he said Tillerson was “wasting his time” attempting diplomacy with North Korea, which is under a series of UN sanctions for its weapons of mass destruction programs.

At the same time, Trump has pressed China to take a harder line against its neighbor and worked to expand the bite of UN sanctions.

The United States has also increased military exercises with South Korea and Japan, which North Korea views as preparation for an invasion.

Infografik Timeline Nordkoreas Raketentests November 2017 ENG

cw/se (AFP, AP, Reuters)