The United States had previously held that they would not engage in talks with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) unless certain conditions were met. President Trump has held that North Korea must agree to denuclearization before talks could commence, reiterating this position in November’s diplomatic visit to Asia. Until today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had echoed this stance.
Today, Tillerson, surprised the world by changing the United States’ stance on diplomatic talks with the isolationist dictatorship. Appearing before the Atlantic Council Korea Foundation Forum, Tillerson said, “[W]e’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition.” The Secretary of State went on to say, “We can at least sit down and see each other face to face. And then we can begin to lay out a map, a roadmap, of what we might be willing to work towards…We need the DPRK to come to the table for talks. We’re ready to talk any time they’d like to talk.”
Tillerson’s new position comes at a time when the media has been wildly speculating about a rift between the Secretary of State and President Trump, with many news outlets claiming the Secretary of State is about to see a pink slip. In his speech, Tillerson seemed to imply that President Trump also backs his position, saying, “It’s not realistic to say ‘we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program.’ They have too much invested in it. And the president is very realistic about that as well.”
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Despite the willingness to reach a diplomatic solution, the Secretary of State did not weaken the stance of the United States, insisting that North Korea must be willing to consider denuclearization. While emphasizing his desire for diplomatic relations, Tillerson also stressed the willingness of the current administration to seek military intervention if necessary, saying, “As I’ve told people many times, I will continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops. I’m confident that we’re gonna be successful. But I’m also confident that Secretary Mattis will be successful if it ends up being his turn.” Tillerson also emphasized his partnership with Secretary Mattis.
The change in position comes on the heels of Pyongyang’s most successful missile test to date. The Hwasong-15 missile that was launched November 29th is believed to put the entire continental United States within the range of the North Korea’s nuclear weapons. If these estimates are true, the Hwasong-15 test serves as a major turning point in US/DPRK relations, as well as in the nuclear arena overall. Such a powerful weapon in the hands of a renegade authoritarian regime is unlike any previous occurrence in the geopolitical realm.
In response to the missile launch Secretary of Defense Mattis highlighted this point saying, “The bottom line is it is a continued effort to build a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States.”
Today also saw the release of the International Bar Association’s report on North Korea, which found Kim Jong Un guilty of 10 out of 11 human rights violations. One Holocaust survivor and judge on the council stated that the atrocities in North Korea are comparable to those he witness in his time spent incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps.