Despite Tillerson's offer, White House says no talks with North Korea

WASHINGTON No negotiations can be held with North Korea until it improves its behaviour, a White House official said, raising questions about US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's offer to begin talks with Pyongyang anytime and without pre-conditions.

"Given North Korea's most recent missile test, clearly right now is not the time," the White House National Security Council spokesman said.

Mr Tillerson said on Tuesday the US was "ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk", appearing to back away from a key US demand that Pyongyang must first accept that any negotiations would have to be about giving up its nuclear arsenal.

The White House has declined to say whether President Donald Trump, who has taken a tougher rhetorical line against North Korea than Mr Tillerson, gave approval for the overture.

"The administration is united in insisting that any negotiations with North Korea must wait until the regime fundamentally improves its behaviour," the official said.

"As the secretary of state himself has said, this must include, but is not limited to, no further nuclear or missile tests."

But in his speech, Mr Tillerson did not explicitly set a testing freeze as a requirement before talks can begin.

He said it would be "tough to talk" if Pyongyang decided to test another device in the middle of discussions and that "a period of quiet" would be needed for productive discussions.

This comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over North Korea's weapons advances and recent exchanges of bellicose rhetoric that have fuelled fears in Asia over the risk of military conflict. - REUTERS