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US in direct talks with North Korea

BEIJING – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged on Saturday that the United States is maintaining direct channels of communications with North Korea even as tensions rise over the North’s nuclear and missile programs and the countries’ leaders spar through bellicose name-calling.

Tillerson said the US was probing North Korea’s willingness to talk, and called for a calming of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, adding it was incumbent on the North to halt the missile launches.

“We have lines of communication to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” Tillerson told reporters during a visit to China. “We have a couple…three channels open to Pyongyang. We can talk to them, we do talk to them.”

No elaboration about those channels or the substance of any discussions came from Tillerson, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top officials in Beijing.

While Tillerson affirmed that the US would not recognize North Korea as a nuclear power, he also said the Trump administration had no intention of trying to oust Kim.

“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,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war, and the Demilitarized Zone divides North and South Korea.

Since President Donald Trump took office in January, the US has restored a diplomatic back-channel between the State Department and North Korea’s mission at the United Nations. That’s traditionally been a way for the two sides to communicate because they lack formal diplomatic ties.

The main aim of the initial contacts was to seek the freedom of several American citizens imprisoned in North Korea, although US officials have told The Associated Press that there were broader discussions about US-North Korean relations.

Those contacts, however, have failed to reduce the deep mistrust between the adversaries and it’s unclear to what extent they have endured the current spike in tensions. (AP)

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