As the United States grapples with how to contend with North Korea's nuclear weapons program that has been fueling a worsening war of words, the rhetoric took a decisively cooler tone Saturday when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged for the first time that the administration is in direct contact with Pyongyang over its missile and nuclear tests, reports The New York Times.
"We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang. We can talk to them, we do talk to them," Tillerson told reporters Saturday in Beijing, according to the pool report.
Tillerson made clear that those talks are not necessarily happening at Pyonyang's highest levels. When asked how he would open a dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Tillerson said, "We are probing. So stay tuned."
Later Saturday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert weighed in, affirming in a statement, "U.S. diplomats have several open channels in which we can communicate with officials within the North Korean regime."
She went on to say, "Despite assurances that the United States is not interested in promoting the collapse of the current regime, pursuing regime change, accelerating reunification of the peninsula or mobilizing forces north of the DMZ, North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization."
The secretary of state was in Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders to discuss denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula as well as trade and investment.