U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that Washington is willing to begin talks with North Korea without preconditions.
Tillerson's remark came as tensions have increased over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs with its latest test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29.
"We're ready to talk whenever North Korea is ready to talk and we're willing to have a first meeting without preconditions," he told a forum here. "We can talk about the weather if you want."
It was a markedly different tone from Washington's earlier insistence that Pyongyang first halt its missile and nuclear testing and demonstrate its sincerity about denuclearization.
"I don't think it's realistic if you say we're only going to talk if you give up your programs," Tillerson continued. "It really depends on how you bring it up. He's clearly not like his father or his grandfather, and we don't know what it will be like to engage with him.
The top U.S. diplomat was referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
"I have to know who my counterpart is. I have to understand how do they process, how do they think," he added.
Earlier in the forum, Tillerson also made clear, however, that North Korea has to come to the table "with a view they want to make a different choice" on its weapons programs.
North Korea has claimed its new missile is capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to all parts of the U.S. mainland. The launch broke a 75-day pause in the regime's weapons testing, which had raised hopes of an opening for talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
"It's going to be tough to talk if in the middle of the talk you decide to test a device," Tillerson said. "If we're going to talk we have to have a period of quiet or it's going to be difficult to have productive discussions."
Tillerson also warned that the U.S. military remains prepared if necessary.
He said he will continue diplomatic efforts with North Korea "until the first bomb drops" and is confident he will be successful. But U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will also be successful if it becomes "his turn."
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