After saber rattling, US opens direct talks with North Korea
The United States is communicating with North Korea as it seeks to encourage the regime to abandon its build up of nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.
Mr Tillerson made his comments in Beijing after holding talks with Chinese leaders on Saturday amid rising concerns over Pyongyang’s military programme.
Washington is known to have back channels which it uses to help negotiate the release of US citizens who have been held captive in the North.
But Mr Tillerson’s disclosure suggests US officials are also using secret talks to convince Pyongyang to hold official negotiations aimed at easing tensions.
“We are probing, so stay tuned,” he told reporters.
“We ask. We have lines of communication with Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout, we have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang.”
“We can talk to them, we do talk to them,” he said.
Asked whether China was acting as a go-between for the contacts, Mr Tillerson said: “Our own channels.”
Tensions have increased in northeast Asia with Kim Jong-un's regime carrying out a series a missile tests and detonating a nuclear bomb earlier this month.
South Korean media reported on Saturday that North Korean missiles were being moved from a research facility, suggesting another provocation could be imminent.
North Korean missile ranges
During his visit to Beijing, Mr Tillerson also discussed arrangements for a trip by Donald Trump to China in November, and Mr Xi spoke about his close relationship with the US President.
He has met him in Florida in April and at the G20 summit in Hamburg in July. The leaders have also held several phone calls.
“I have enjoyed each and every one of those engagements and we have made considerable efforts to push for the development of China-US relations,” Mr Xi said.
“The two of us have also maintained a good working relationship and personal friendship.”
Mr Tillerson's arrival to Beijing had been delayed due to technical difficulties with his plane in Tokyo.
Beijing has been pushing for negotiations between the US and Pyongyang amid the current tensions.
China's Global Times newspaper said there were “two trains of thought” with regards to Pyongyang's increasingly frequent provocations: “Crush North Korea or talk to North Korea.”
“China and Russia hold the latter view,” the newspaper said.
“The US, South Korea and Japan should respect China and Russia’s down-to-earth attitude toward North Korea’s nuclear issue and act in concert with China and Russia.”
North Korea | Kim Jong-un's fiery relationship with the US