US ready to talk to North Korea, says Tillerson

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China, Russia welcome US Secretary of State's new North Korea strategy

WASHINGTON/SEOUL: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered to begin direct talks with North Korea without conditions, backing away from a key US demand that Pyongyang must accept that giving up its nuclear arsenal would be part of any negotiation.

Mr Tillerson's new diplomatic overture comes nearly two weeks after North Korea said it had successfully tested a breakthrough intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that put the entire US mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.

"Let us just meet," Mr Tillerson said in a speech to Washington's Atlantic Council think-tank on Tuesday.

The White House later issued an ambiguous statement that left unclear whether US President Donald Trump had given his approval for the speech.

"The president's views on North Korea have not changed," the White House said. "North Korea is acting in an unsafe way. North Korea's actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea."

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China welcomed all efforts to ease tension and promote dialogue to resolve the problem, Reuters reported.

China hopes the US and North Korea can meet each other halfway and take meaningful steps on dialogue, he told reporters.

Russia, too, said it welcomed Mr Tillerson's statement, AFP reported.

"We can state that such constructive statements impress us far more than the confrontational rhetoric that we have heard up to now," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

Ahead of Mr Tillerson's speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to develop more nuclear weapons while decorating those who contributed to the development of Pyongyang's ICBM, state media said yesterday.

Mr Kim told workers behind the latest test that his country would "victoriously advance and leap as the strongest nuclear power and military power in the world" at a conference on Tuesday, according to state news agency KCNA.

United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman, who visited Pyongyang last week, said senior North Korean officials did not offer any type of commitment to talks, but he believed he left "the door ajar".

"Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we have left the door ajar, and I fervently hope the door to a negotiated solution will now be open wide," he told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

Not everyone is ready for talks. Japan has advocated a strategy of pressuring North Korea through sanctions to give up its nuclear weapons.

Tokyo and Washington are in "100 per cent" agreement on that stance, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said yesterday, when asked about Mr Tillerson's comments.

Mr Tillerson also disclosed the US had been talking to China about how to secure North Korea's nuclear weapons in the event of a collapse of the government in Pyongyang.

He said Beijing had been given assurances that if US forces had to cross into North Korea they would pull back across the border into the South.