US top diplomat Tillerson to N Korea on talks: I’m listening

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WASHINGTON US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is "listening" for signs that North Korea is ready to engage in direct talks. "My job as chef diplomat is to ensure that the North Koreans know we keep our channels open," he told the CBS news show 60 Minutes.

"I am listening. I am not sending a lot of messages back because there's nothing to say to them at this point. So I am listening for you to tell me you are ready to talk," he said.

An Olympics-driven thaw in relations between nuclear armed North Korea and US ally South Korea has raised speculation that direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang could be on the horizon after months of heated rhetoric.

Mr Tillerson stressed that no incentive was being offered to get Pyongyang to the table. "We are not using a carrot to convince them to talk, we are using large sticks - and that is what they need to understand," he said. "This pressure campaign is having its bite."

The North is subject to a series of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The United States has previously indicated that it is open to direct talks, but Mr Tillerson stressed earlier this month that the ball was now in Pyongyang's camp.

"We've said for some time it's really up to the North Koreans to decide when they're ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way," he said on Feb 12 in Cairo.

Washington says Pyongyang must take concrete steps towards denuclearisation before talks can begin, while South Korean President Moon Jae In has argued for closer involvement to engage the North in talks. - AFP