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Tillerson renews offer to talk with N. Korea

WASHINGTON -- US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday he is pleased North Korea has refrained from provocations and hopes it is a signal of the regime's willingness to hold talks "sometime in the near future."

Tillerson took time out of a press briefing on the US strategy for Afghanistan to acknowledge that North Korea has exercised restraint since the UN Security Council imposed new sanctions on the regime early this month.

"I want to take note of that. I want to acknowledge it," he said at the State Department. "I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we've not seen in the past."

He added, "We hope that this is the beginning of this signal that we've been looking for, that they are ready to restrain their level of tensions, they're ready to restrain their provocative acts, and that perhaps we are seeing our pathway to sometime in the near future having some dialogue."

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (AFP-Yonhap)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (AFP-Yonhap)

North Korea staged its last major provocation on July 28, a second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, after which the UN Security Council unanimously passed new sanctions targeting a third of its annual export revenues.

Tensions escalated soon after as North Korea threatened to retaliate against the US, and the two sides engaged in a war of words suggesting military action.

The secretary had still held out the possibility of talks on the condition that North Korea first halt its missile tests and other provocations. He also made clear that the ultimate aim would be the country's denuclearization.

"We need to see more on their part but I want to acknowledge the steps they've taken thus far. I think it's important to take note of that," stressed Tillerson.

The peace gesture came just hours after the Treasury announced new sanctions on mainly Chinese and Russian entities and individuals with suspected ties to North Korea's nuclear program.

Douglas Paal, vice president for studies for the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the two actions reflected the Trump administration's strategy of applying maximum economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime, and then creating room for engagement.

Moreover, the administration was relieved North Korea did not go ahead with its earlier threats to launch ballistic missiles towards Guam, he noted in an email.

"I think Tillerson is trying to give Pyongyang a reason not to change course by offering talks," Paal said, pointing out the communist country has also refrained from carrying out provocations in protest of joint military exercises involving South Korean and US troops, which kicked off Monday. (Yonhap)

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