President Donald Trump has not changed his position on North Korea but does not oppose efforts to initiate talks.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. is ready to talk to North Korea any time “without preconditions”.
"When do the talks begin? We have said, from the diplomatic side, we are ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk. And we are ready to have the first meeting without preconditions. Let's just meet," Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council think tank in the U.S. capitol.
The former Exxon Mobil CEO’s remarks suggested there had been a change in the State Department’s policy which had previously required Pyongyang to show it was “serious” about giving up its nuclear arsenal before contacts could start.
"It's not realistic to say we're only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They have too much invested in it," Tillerson said.
He also said President Donald Trump "is very realistic about that as well and encouraged the diplomatic efforts".
"We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk whether it is going to be a square table or a round table if that is what you are excited about," Tillerson continued. "But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face," he said. "And then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map of what we might be willing to work towards."
The top U.S. diplomat had said earlier this year at the United Nations that North Korea must take steps to halt its nuclear weapons program in order to sit down at the table for talks.
But the White House later in the day clarified that Trump has not changed his position on North Korea, although they did not oppose Tillerson's efforts to initiate U.S.-North Korea talks.
"The President's views on North Korea have not changed,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said. “North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China and South Korea, but the entire world."
Tillerson also revealed that the U.S. and China talked about what each country would do in case the North Korean regime collapses, saying the U.S. had given China assurances that American troops would pull back to the 38th parallel which divides North and South Korea.
He said China has concerns about a mass migration across the border if North Korea collapses, adding Beijing is taking steps to prepare for such an eventuality.
"I think it is something that they can manage. I don't think the threat is as significant as perhaps others view it,” Tillerson added.