Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday at an event at the Atlantic Council that he is open to negotiating with North Korea. Speaking Tuesday, he said, “We’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition. Tillerson added, “Let’s just meet. And we can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face.”
Tillerson did call for a freeze of North Korea's missle tests in his call for negotiations with the totalitarian regime. He said that President Donald Trump is "pretty realistic” about opening a dialogue with Pyongyang. “I will continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops,” Tillerson said. “I’m going to be confident that we’re going to be successful, but I’m also confident [Defense Secretary James] Mattis will be successful if it ends up being his turn,” he said in an allusion to South Korean and American military preparations.
North Korea has launched 23 missiles in 16 tests since February. In a November 29 launch, North Korea showed off a new design that flew further and at greater altitude with the capacity of striking the U.S. mainland.
In addition to the carrot of openness to talks, Tillerson has hedged his bets by tightening diplomatic and economic sanctions as a stick to force North Korea to the negotiating table. So far, Tillerson's diplomatic gambit has yielded cooperation from Kuwait, Italy, Mexico, Peru, and Spain -- all of which have withdrawn their ambassadors. Other countries have expelled North Korean workers, while cutting off trade with the regime. Both are key sources of revenue for Kim Jong Un’s regime. China, Iran, and Russia remain supportive. “We know the regime notices when that ambassador comes home,” Tillerson said.
This is not the first time the U.S. has engaged in negotiations with the regime. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration held secret talks with North Korea and agreed to swapping food for a delay in North Korea's nuclear program. It did not work. In 2001, Tillerson’s predecessor Colin Powell conducted talks, as well. The key may be China, which has continued to provide key economic and diplomatic support despite American pressure. China fears that regime change in North Korea could lead to a wave of North Korean refugees.