White House says N Korea talks unlikely
In a direct contradiction of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the White House says there can be no negotiations with North Korea until it "fundamentally improves its behaviour".
"Given North Korea's most recent missile test, clearly right now is not the time," a White House official told Reuters.
Tillerson said on Tuesday the United States was "ready to talk any time 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.Singapore bans Mufti Menk from entering country
The White House has declined to say whether President Donald Trump, who has taken a tougher rhetorical line against North Korea than Tillerson, gave approval for the overture.
A day after Tillerson's comments at Washington's Atlantic Council think tank, the White House official, who declined to be named, laid out a more restrictive formula for any diplomatic engagement with North Korea.
"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."Low approval rating masks Trump support
In his speech, however, 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.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Wednesday appeared to walk back part of Tillerson's proposal, saying there would have to be a suspension of North Korean nuclear and missile tests for an undefined length of time before any talks could take place.
"And we certainly haven't seen that right now," she told reporters, insisting Tillerson had not unveiled a new policy and was "on the same page" as the White House.Russia sets out why it thinks U.N. wrongly accused Syria over sarin attack
Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over North Korea's weapons advances have grown this year and recent exchanges of bellicose rhetoric have fuelled fears over the risk of military conflict.
Tillerson's relationship with Trump has been strained by differences over North Korea and other issues, and he has seen his influence diminished within the administration. Senior administration officials said late last month that Trump was considering a plan to oust Tillerson, though the secretary of state has dismissed that.
Tillerson said in his speech that Trump "has encouraged our diplomatic efforts." Trump, however, tweeted in October that Tillerson was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with North Korea.Trump skirts human rights in Duterte talks
Tillerson's overture came nearly two weeks after North Korea said it had successfully tested a breakthrough intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that put the entire United States mainland within range.
North Korea has made clear it has little interest in negotiations with the United States until it has developed the ability to hit the US mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile, something most experts say it has still not proved.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said following Tillerson's speech that China welcomed efforts to ease tension and promote dialogue to resolve the North Korea standoff.Merkel vows to get government in place