Posts Tagged ‘North Korea’

US presses Thailand to downgrade ties with North Korea

December 14, 2017


© KCNA VIA KNS/AFP | Thailand says it has drastically slashed trade with North Korea

BANGKOK (AFP) – The US has urged Thailand to downgrade diplomatic and trade ties with North Korea, a senior Thai official said Thursday after meeting with an American envoy, as the Trump administration pushes ahead with a global campaign to further isolate the nuclear-armed pariah state.General Wanlop Rugsanoah, secretary general of Thailand’s National Security Council, told AFP the request was made during his meeting with US special envoy for North Korea Joseph Yun, who arrived in Bangkok Wednesday evening for a two-day trip to the kingdom.

“The US asked Thailand to put more pressure on North Korea, put more trade and diplomatic pressure,” Wanlop said after his sit-down with Yun in Bangkok.

He stressed that Bangkok had already significantly reduced its trade volume with Pyongyang — down to around $1.5 million a year — and would curtail visas to North Korean citizens.

Thailand, one of America’s oldest allies in the region, is one of several Southeast Asian countries to host a North Korean embassy, and once enjoyed valuable economic ties with the reclusive regime.

But the UN and the US have increasingly leaned on regional leaders to do more to squeeze North Korea as international sanctions have not resulted in Pyongyang halting its nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests.

Yun’s visit is part of a December 11-15 trip to Asia — including a stop in Japan — “to discuss ways to strengthen the pressure campaign following the DPRK’s latest ballistic missile test,” the US State Department said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

The US embassy in Bangkok confirmed Yun’s meeting with the National Security Council chief took place but declined to provide more details on the discussion.

Wanlop insisted there were no meetings planned between American and North Korean officials in Thailand.

In August, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stopped in Bangkok to pressure the government to crack down on North Korean shell companies that use the Thai capital as a trading hub.

Thailand said this week it had drastically slashed trade with North Korea this year, down 94 percent compared with 2016.

Pimchanok Vonkorpon, director of the Thai Commerce Ministry’s Trade Policy and Strategy Office, said “there will be no export or import of goods between Thailand and North Korea” by the end of 2017.

Outside of Southeast Asia, Washington has focused most on Beijing to counter Pyongyang, urging the North’s longtime ally and economic lifeline to rein in leader Kim Jong-Un and his nuclear programme.

China has accepted a series of UN sanctions against Pyongyang but has so far resisted calls to shut a crude oil pipeline considered crucial to North Korea’s economy.

However, some of the sanctions are starting to bite.

The UN Security Council had ordered countries to stop providing guest work permits to North Koreans after Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test in September.

The ban impacts an estimated 100,000 North Koreans who send some $500 million in wages back to the regime.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has swung back-and-forth between contradicting approaches to the crisis on the Korean peninsula, with Tillerson adopting a more diplomatic attitude amid fiery threats from the White House.

On Wednesday, the State Department said the US position on North Korea has not changed despite Tillerson’s comments that he would be willing to talk to the North without preconditions.


White House Corrects Tillerson on Whether U.S. Will Talk to North Korea — The White House distanced itself from Tillerson’s overture

December 14, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson are once again at odds over how to deal with nuclear-armed North Korea after Mr. Tillerson declared on Tuesday that the United States was ready to open talks with the North “without precondition.”

The secretary’s comments were remarkably conciliatory for an administration that has repeatedly threatened North Korea with military action, and ruled out any negotiations, if it did not curb its missile and nuclear programs. But a few hours later, the White House distanced itself from his overture.

In an unusual statement released to reporters on Tuesday evening, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Mr. Trump’s position on North Korea had not changed — namely, that talks were pointless if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, continued to menace his neighbors.

“North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world,” she said. “North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”

It was only the latest example of a public rift between the president and his chief diplomat over North Korea.

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and suit
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. wants to have a dialogue with North Korea “anytime,” backing away from Washington’s previous demand that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons before they come to the table. Photo: AP

In October, Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to open diplomatic lines to Pyongyang. But this time, the comments follow reports that the White House is laying the groundwork for the secretary’s departure from the State Department and his replacement by Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director.

White House officials were alarmed by Mr. Tillerson’s conciliatory tone, according to several people, because they feared that it would sow confusion among allies after Mr. Trump rallied them behind a policy of “maximum pressure.”

There were no signs that Mr. Tillerson intended to signal a change in policy. He was speaking to the Atlantic Council in what was billed as a wrap-up of foreign-policy challenges in the administration’s first year.

Asked about the prospects for diplomacy with the North, he said, “We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition.”

“Let’s just meet and let’s — we can talk about the weather if you want,” he continued. “We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table, if that’s what you’re excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face?”

To some extent, Mr. Tillerson was merely playing the role he has played throughout the administration’s confrontation with North Korea — the diplomat offering a softer line while Mr. Trump and other White House officials warn about the consequences if North Korea does not back off.

But Mr. Tillerson indicated an urgency about getting to the table with North Korea, which officials said runs counter to the White House’s view that negotiations are unlikely to happen anytime soon, given Mr. Kim’s repeated tests of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.

Read the rest:


China: South Korean President in China to mend ties strained by North Korean crisis

December 14, 2017


© Noel Celis, AFP | South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In adjusts his earphones during the 19th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-South Korea Summit on the sidelines of the 31st ASEAN Summit.


Latest update : 2017-12-14

South Korean President Moon Jae-In will meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing Thursday amid mixed US signals about potential talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Relations between Beijing and Seoul have encountered their own rough patch over the US military’s deployment of a powerful anti-missile defence system in the South to counter the North’s threats.

Moon hopes to “normalise” ties during the visit, his office has said, after Beijing imposed economic measures against South Korean companies, a move seen as retaliation to the installation of the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system.


China sees the deployment as a threat to its own security.

Moving past the disagreement has become increasingly important amid growing concern that bellicose rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang could spark war on the Korean peninsula.

“The highlights to watch of the visit would be whether the two sides (Seoul and Beijing) can start a dialogue and cooperation mechanism on the DPRK (North Korea) nuclear issue,” said Zhu Feng, international studies professor at Peking University.

China has long refused to countenance the possibility that the North’s Communist regime could collapse.

But a series of nuclear and missile tests combined with pressure from US President Donald Trump has pushed Beijing to reconsider its position and prioritise improving relations with Seoul.

“It is a very uncertain period,” Zhu said. “The two sides need high-level dialogues and dialogues between militaries. These dialogues cannot really start without the normalisation of the bilateral relations.”

Possible talks?

Moon’s visit comes after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington was ready to talk to North Korea “without preconditions”, though it remains determined to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arsenal.

China and Russia responded positively to Tillerson’s remarks, even after the White House appeared to put his proposal in question by saying Trump’s “views on North Korea have not changed.”

Beijing has pressed for talks to peacefully resolve the crisis, but there are signals that it has begun to prepare for the possibility of the North’s collapse.

Tillerson said Tuesday that US and Chinese officials have discussed scenarios in case the North Korean regime falls, including steps to deal with refugees crossing the border, and how to secure Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.

Washington’s top diplomat said these discussions involved him, the US defence secretary and military chief, and senior Chinese officials.

Such discussions were unthinkable just a few months ago.

But China’s priority has been to convince the United States and North Korea to hold talks.

Beijing has also urged the US, Japan and South Korea to suspend joint military drills in the region in return for North Korea to halt its nuclear activities — an idea consistently rejected by Washington and Seoul.

But “Pyongyang can’t have its cake and eat it, too,” the state-run China Daily warned in an editorial Thursday.

“It cannot expect Washington to engage in direct peace talks with it, while at the same time making such talks more difficult by continuing with its missile launches and nuclear tests.”

In Tokyo, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that the worst outcome would be for the world to “sleepwalk into a war that might have very dramatic circumstances.”


With concerns about the peninsula’s stability mounting, South Korea and China issued identically-worded statements last month on their mutual desire to improve relations.

They did not state any specifics, but Beijing has demanded that Seoul formally promise not to deploy any more THAAD launchers and not to join any regional US missile defence system.

On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing had reached “some consensus” with Seoul on THAAD.

In a limited sign of improved ties, China’s state tourism board approved Seoul-bound group tours from some parts of the country last month.

A business delegation including executives from South Korean giants Samsung, Hyundai and LG, is accompanying Moon on the trip, which began Wednesday and is the president’s first state visit to China since he took office in May.


Xi to Discuss North Korea and Trade With South Korea’s Moon — Wants an end to U.S. military exercises

December 14, 2017


By Kanga Kong

 Updated on 
  • Moon seeks engagement, while Xi wants U.S. drills suspended
  • Leaders to sign agreement to start stalled FTA talks today
Xi Jinping Photographer: FRED DUFOUR/POOL

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in in Beijing later Thursday for talks on North Korea and trade, as tensions between the two major Asian economies begin to thaw after a spat over Seoul’s deployment of a U.S. missile shield.

North Korea’s missile and nuclear program will likely dominate Moon’s first state visit to China since coming to office in May. Moon is seeking engagement with the isolated nation, but has backed pressure to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table. Beijing has made a “suspension-for-suspension” proposal that involves North Korea suspending weapons tests while the U.S. halts military drills with South Korea.

Tensions rose between the nations last year after then President Park Geun-hye decided to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, missile shield on South Korean soil. That move led Beijing to retaliate economically, suspending sales of package tours and hindering the operations of South Korean companies.

Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system at the Osan Air Base in Mar. 6.

Photographer: United States Forces Korea via Getty Images

Read about why Thaad bothers China so much

While Moon initially called for a review of the deployment, his government backed the system as Kim Jong Un’s regime accelerated efforts to obtain the capability to hit the continental U.S. with a nuclear weapon. In October, the nations agreed to put the dispute behind them.

The two sides “reached some consensus on dealing with the issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Tuesday in response to a question about Moon’s visit. “We hope that the issue can continue to be handled properly.”

The UN envoy to North Korea, Jeffrey Feltman, recently returned from that country deeply worried about the prospects for bringing an end to its nuclear weapons program, reporting that the North Koreans don’t believe the time is right for negotiations, according to a European member of the Security Council who was briefed on the visit.

Speaking in Tokyo on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the worst scenario would be to sleepwalk into a war with North Korea.

Jeffrey Feltman in Pyongyang on Dec. 7.

Photographer: Kim Won-jin/AFP via Getty Images

‘Strategic Option’

Kang Jun-young, who teaches Chinese studies at the graduate school of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said the Thaad issue will hang over talks.

“China has strongly opposed Thaad and Xi has expressed his opposition several times,” said Kang, who also advises South Korea’s foreign ministry. “It’s a strategic option to move on because there are other issues to cooperate with” such as North Korea, he said.

In an interview this week with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, Moon said that Thaad should be dealt with separately from issues such as the economy, politics and national security.

Separately, South Korea has asked China to investigate injuries to traveling journalists in Beijing after reports of assault at an event earlier Thursday. Yonhap News Agency reported that a photo journalist was hospitalized after being beaten by a group of Chinese guards.

The leaders will also sign a memorandum of understanding to restart negotiations on expanding a two-year-old trade agreement to further open China’s service and investment sectors to South Korea companies.

South Korea, U.S. and China Unite to Give Talks With North Korea Another Chance

December 13, 2017

South Korea’s Moon visits Beijing in effort to repair ties with China

Tillerson: U.S. Open to North Korea Talks Without Preconditions
 Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and suit
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. wants to have a dialogue with North Korea “anytime,” backing away from Washington’s previous demand that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons before they come to the table. Photo: AP

BEIJING—South Korea, China and the U.S. signaled a new push to pursue dialogue to help reduce tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program, as the South Korean leader arrived in Beijing for an official visit aimed at repairing bilateral ties.

President Moon Jae-in’s four-day trip began Wednesday, hours after Washington indicated its willingness to open talks with Pyongyang without preconditions—a softened stance that could help unify North Korea’s neighbors in dealing with the hermit state.

China-South Korea ties had soured in the past year as Beijing reacted angrily to Seoul’s deployment of an American missile-defense battery, in a dispute that has hampered efforts to coordinate a regional response against North Korea’s advances in nuclear and ballistic-missile technology.

Both sides agreed in October to set aside the dispute, paving the way for Mr. Moon’s first visit to China since taking office in May. His priorities in a Thursday meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping —their third this year—are to secure the restoration of economic links and coordinate policy on North Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife arrive in China

“China and South Korea share common interests and similar positions on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and negotiation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Tuesday at a regular briefing.

The Threat From North Korea’s Missiles

For Beijing, friendlier ties with Seoul strengthen its hand in nudging Washington toward accepting Chinese proposals for direct talks with Pyongyang, said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at Renmin University in Beijing.

With U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opening the door to direct talks with North Korea, “there’s a loosening of positions” that sets up the Xi-Moon summit as an opportunity to “discuss how to sustain this momentum toward negotiations,” Mr. Cheng said.

Mr. Tillerson’s Tuesday comments included assurances that U.S. troops would stay away from the Chinese border in the event of regime collapse in North Korea—remarks that Chinese analysts call an important concession to Beijing.

“It might encourage China to actively help, for example by putting direct pressure on North Korea to accept the offer,” said Su Hao, an international relations expert at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Asked Wednesday about Mr. Tillerson’s comments, Mr. Lu, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Beijing welcomes efforts to ease tension on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea said Mr. Tillerson’s comments emphasized the need for North Korea to stop its provocations and return to dialogue.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. wants to have a dialogue with North Korea “anytime,” backing away from Washington’s previous demand that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons before they come to the table. Photo: AP

“Under the principle of no tolerance for North Korea’s nuclear weapons, Korea and the U.S.’s position is that various forms of contacts are possible, if it helps in achieving the goal of complete discard of North Korean nuclear weapons in a peaceful way,” said a spokesman for the South Korean presidency.

The left-leaning South Korean administration has held open the door for a resumption of talks with Pyongyang, but those outreaches have been ignored or rebuffed.

Related Coverage

Tillerson Rules Out a Containment Strategy for North Korea (Dec. 12)
How North Korea’s Global Financing Web Works Around Sanctions (Dec. 12)
There was no reaction to Mr. Tillerson’s remarks from North Korea on Wednesday via its state media.

Mr. Moon’s itinerary in China includes a Thursday state banquet and a Friday meeting with Premier Li Keqiang, the country’s No. 2 leader. The South Korean president will then travel to the inland megacity of Chongqing, where he will visit a Hyundai Motor Co. factory and meet the city’s top official, Chen Min’er, a protégé of Mr. Xi.

The visit comes amid signs of Chinese anxiety about simmering tensions over the Korean Peninsula, including efforts by Chinese authorities in areas bordering North Korea to improve public readiness to cope with contingencies.

The official newspaper of Jilin province published a full-page advisory last week teaching residents how to protect themselves from nuclear explosions and radioactive fallout. “Upon detecting the flash from an explosion, don’t watch the fireball. Move quickly into various civil-defense infrastructure for protection,” the advisory said.

Officials in a Chinese border county have set up settlement areas for hosting potential North Korean refugees, according to a purported internal document from a state-owned telecommunications firm widely shared on Chinese social media last week.

Chinese analysts and state media say such measures are necessary precautions that don’t imply any fears in Beijing about an imminent outbreak of armed conflict or a humanitarian crisis on China’s northeastern border.

Rather, the preparations suggest that Chinese authorities are feeling “pessimistic” about the prospects of easing tensions over the Korean Peninsula, said Wang Sheng, a professor at Jilin University who has studied North Korean affairs.

“Having tried its best to put pressure on North Korea, China must now do its best to safeguard the interests of its own people,” Mr. Wang said. “The authorities are likely undertaking a basket of preventive measures—political, military, economic—to minimize the impact from any crisis, while doing so in a low-profile manner to avoid alarming the public.”

—Josh Chin and Kersten Zhang in Beijing, and Min Sun Lee in Seoul contributed to this article.

Write to Chun Han Wong at


The big ‘if’ in Tillerson’s overture to North Korea — Talks without pre-conditions but not negotiations — Does Tillerson speak for the Trump administration?

December 13, 2017

By Nirmal Ghosh
The Straits Times

WASHINGTON – North Korea wants to prevent war, a senior United Nations official said after a visit to Pyongyang last week that he believed left the door ajar for a negotiated solution to the impasse over North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

In Washington US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went further, saying the US was ready to talk with Pyongyang without pre-conditions – essentially dropping a key US demand that North Korea must first accept that any negotiations would have to be about giving up its nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Tillerson’s remarks, made at the Atlantic Council in Washington on Tuesday (Dec 12), were seen as a softening of the US’ position. Significantly, he said “It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your programme. They have too much invested in it. And the President is very realistic about that as well.”

UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman, who became the highest-level UN official to visit North Korea since 2011, after his four-day visit also expressed hopes for talks. On Tuesday he told reporters: “Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we have left the door ajar and I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide.”

Analysts told The Straits Times that Mr Tillerson’s overture could open a much-needed window for dialogue and possibly bring about a breakthrough in the current stalemate. However, question remains whether the US’s top diplomat speaks for the Trump administration.

“This is a significant development and could open a window of opportunity for talks – IF he speaks for the administration,” Dr Sue Mi Terry, Senior Fellow for the Korea Chair at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, told The Straits Times over e-mail.

 Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and suit

“That’s a big if,” she added. “It is not clear if Trump signed off on his statement. Given the tense relations between Tillerson and Trump, it is hard to know if the Secretary of State speaks for the President.”

Mr Trump has publicly contradicted Mr Tillerson in the past, specifically on North Korea. And for weeks there has been media speculation that Mr Tillerson may resign.

Likewise, Mr Will Saetren, a research associate at the Institute for China-America Studies in Washington DC, has his doubts. “It’s a positive step but I take it with a grain of salt,” he told ST.

He added that while this seemed good good on the surface, it was not certain if Mr Trump will change his mind “tomorrow or the next day, or the next time North Korea launches a missile – which will happen, they are on the path towards testing proven ICBM capability and they won’t stop”.

Just hours after Mr Tillerson made the comments, the White House issued an ambiguous statement that did not make it clear if Mr Trump had approved the speech.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement: “The President’s views on North Korea have not changed.”

North Korea was “acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea,” she added.

Still, Mr Tillerson’s comments were cautiously welcomed by analysts. Dr Denny Roy, Senior Fellow at the East West Centre in Hawaii, told ST over e-mail : “Tillerson’s comments are a welcome opportunity to reduce tensions, at least temporarily, if Pyongyang chooses to respond affirmatively to the offer by agreeing to a meeting and not insisting on its own pre-conditions.”

He noted the useful ambiguity in the terms “talks”.

He said: “In the recent past the policy has been that Washington will agree to ‘talks’ without pre-conditions, but not “negotiations…The US government could agree to ‘talks’ while still claiming it has not given ground.”

Dr Roy added: “I think the table is set for Pyongyang to declare victory a little early and start leveraging the progress they’ve made so far. This way they avoid pushing Trump into military action. Many authoritative US commentators, some within government, are already saying North Korea has shown enough that we must assume they have the capability to hit the US homeland with a nuclear explosive.”

Mr Saetren also expressed cautious optimism.

“The most significant thing is it signals a shift that the administration might actually be able to tolerate a nuclear armed North Korea, for now,” he said. “Previously that has been completely unacceptable.”

He added that he hoped it would work out as it was the only way forward.

“The tit for tat war of words can only end badly for everyone. Hopefully this is the United States beginning to construct the off ramp that we need,” he said.


N. Korea’s overseas financial network squeezed by US

December 13, 2017


© AFP/File | The report said a network of China-based firms had raked in billions of dollars for the North Korean regime for years through the coal trade

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea’s intricate overseas financial network is creaking under the strains of Washington’s economic screws on the impoverished nuclear armed regime, a research report said.The United Nations, United States, European Union and several individual countries have slapped multiple sets of economic sanctions on the North for its menacing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, forcing Pyongyang to come up with illicit ways to evade them.

The North operated a complex offshore financial network to maintain the flow of hard currency, said a report by Washington-based security research group C4ADS and the Sejong Institute in Seoul.

But doing so meant Pyongyang had lost control of its assets, it added.

“By nesting its illicit activity in its overseas networks, North Korea has maintained its access to the international financial system, but its assets are inherently vulnerable,” the report said.

The report, citing findings by the US Department of Justice, said a network of China-based firms had raked in billions of dollars for the North Korean regime for years through the coal trade — with Washington estimating 95 percent of the funds were probably funnelled to the weapons programme.

From 2013 to 2016, four Chinese companies — Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. (DHID), Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Material Co. Ltd (DZMM), Dandong Tianfu Trade Co., and Jin-Hou International Holding Co. Ltd. — accounted for 30 percent of the North’s coal exports, the report found.

“During this four-year period, these imports would have provided an estimated $1,331,024,223 to the North Korean military and WMD program,” it said.

DZMM — the top importer of North Korean coal to China from 2014 to 2016 — followed the general business pattern of “moving coal out of North Korea and moving illegal goods — including military munitions and items — into North Korea”, it added.

But the North’s strategy of offshore finances may backfire in the face of stronger sanctions.

Washington has been filing civil forfeiture complaints against funds held by North Korea-linked companies since September last year and confiscated $84 million from DHID funds across 25 bank accounts and 12 banks alone.

“The Department of Justice’s seizures since September 2016 amount to three times what was frozen in 2005 from Banco Delta Asia,” the report said.

The US Treasury Department placed restrictions on the Macau-based institution in 2005 under suspicions that it was laundering millions for North Korea. The Macau government subsequently froze roughly fifty accounts held in the bank by Pyongyang.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemingly contradicts President Trump, says Russia ‘interfered’ in U.S. election

December 13, 2017


Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and suit

The relationship between President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has soured in recent months.  (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Embattled Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to contradict President Trump on Monday, telling dozens of U.S. diplomats that Russia deliberately interfered in American “democratic processes.”Tillerson, who is reportedly expected to leave his White House post amid growing tensions with the President, made the admission during a town hall-style meeting with career diplomats at the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Monday morning.

Tillerson told the diplomats that Trump has “many, many times” expressed that the U.S. and Russia “just can’t afford” to not have a productive relationship, according to a transcript released by the State Department. But, Tillerson continued, “today that’s not the case, and we all know why.”

“Russia chose through hybrid warfare to interfere with democratic processes here, and they’ve done so in other countries as well,” Tillerson, 65, said, referencing the Kremlin’s annexation of the Crimea in Ukraine.

The Secretary’s comments were first reported by the Daily Beast.

The White House did not respond to questions about Tillerson’s comments.

Contrary to Tillerson, Trump has never unambiguously stated that Russia purposely meddled in the 2016 election in an effort to elect him, as has been unanimously ascertained by the U.S. intelligence community. Trump is much more likely to describe reports of Russian election hacking as “fake news” disseminated to undermine his presidency.

During the town hall, Tillerson conceded that he hopes the U.S. can work together with Russia to solve the humanitarian crisis in Syria. But, he added, “We’re not aligned every day.”

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Tillerson also softened Trump’s typically harsh stance on the Iran nuclear agreement during the town hall meeting.

"Russia chose through hybrid warfare to interfere with democratic processes here," Tillerson told the career diplomats.

“Russia chose through hybrid warfare to interfere with democratic processes here,” Tillerson told the career diplomats.


“We have concerns about whether that agreement’s going to deliver on its objective but for the time being, we’re in agreement,” Tillerson said of the Obama-era proposal, which offered sanctions relief in exchange for a promise that Iran would refrain from developing nuclear weapons.

In October, Trump decertified the agreement, which he has called “the dumbest & most dangerous” deal made in the “history of our country.”

Rumors have it that Trump is looking to boot Tillerson and replace him with CIA director Mike Pompeo.

The President’s relationship with the former Exxon Mobil executive began to sour after a report this fall quoted Tillerson as having called Trump a “moron.”

While Tillerson contradicted Trump on some points, he spent a large share of the Monday speech praising the President as “bold” and “successful.”

In move that could alienate Japan, Tillerson says U.S. willing to talk to North Korea ‘without preconditions’ — “We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk.”

December 13, 2017


Image may contain: one or more people, suit and eyeglasses

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson concludes his remarks on the U.S.-Korea relationship during a forum at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington on Tuesday. | REUTERS


Japan Times
DEC 13, 2017

In a shift that could put Washington at odds with Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to soften the United States’ approach to the North Korean crisis on Tuesday, offering to begin talks without preconditions, including its long-standing demand that Pyongyang first give up its nuclear weapons.

“We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without preconditions,” Tillerson said in a speech livestreamed from the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. “Let’s just meet. We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about.”

The top U.S. diplomat’s comments struck a markedly different tone from past statements that have dismissed talks as unworkable unless the North first ditched its nuclear weapons. They also come just two weeks after Pyongyang, in what it characterized as a major “breakthrough,” test-fired a long-range missile that experts said could strike most, if not all, of the continental United States.

Tillerson said sitting down “face to face” could allow the U.S. and the North to “begin to lay out a map, a road map” for future engagement.

“It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your (nuclear) program,” he said. “They have too much invested in it. And the president is very realistic about that as well.”

While reiterating that Washington’s ultimate goal remained the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Tillerson said the United States was “ready to talk any time they’re ready to talk,” but that Pyongyang must come to the table willing to make choices to change its course.

He did, however, lay down one condition, noting that there should be a “period of quiet” in which such preliminary talks could take place.

“It’s going to be tough to talk if in the middle of our talks you decide to test another device,” he said. “We need a period of quiet.”

It was unclear what this meant, but the U.S. had earlier hinted that a 60-day pause to nuclear and missile tests might be enough to kick-start early talks. Before the North tested its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29, it had gone 75 days without conducting such tests, raising hopes of a fresh diplomatic opening.

Tokyo, however, may not be in the mood for talks.

Japan — especially Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — has been a vociferous advocate of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of using sanctions to rein in the North’s nuclear program.

Asked about Tillerson’s comments, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that Tokyo and Washington remain in “100 percent” agreement on the pressure stance.

But experts said it appeared that Japan had not been consulted before Tillerson’s remarks.

“This has surely blindsided the Abe administration, which noted there was no point for talks, unless there was a deep and meaningful commitment to denuclearization,” said J. Berkshire Miller, a senior visiting fellow with the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo.

“Throw on top of this the potential suspension of U.S.-South Korea military exercises, and the pro-dialogue push from Seoul, Beijing and Moscow — and it appears that the Abe administration is being left out on a branch suddenly — a development which could do significant damage to the U.S.-Japan alliance, especially around questions of U.S. credibility and extended deterrence,” Miller added.

Washington has maintained that its commitment to defending its allies in Japan and South Korea remains “ironclad,” but North Korea’s rapid progress toward building a credible nuclear arsenal capable of hitting the U.S. has stoked concern in Tokyo and Seoul.

In a separate sign that Washington could be laying the groundwork for seizing the diplomatic initiative with Pyongyang, the top U.S. official for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, met with Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, for talks in Tokyo.

Yun was also expected to meet Thursday with North Korean Foreign Ministry officials in Chiang Mai, Thailand, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported late Tuesday, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.

Tillerson, for his part, said the U.S. “would continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops.”

In the meantime, he said, “our military preparation is strong. A full range of contingencies are available and they are ready.”

The United States, Japan and South Korea have ramped up joint military exercises, with Air Self-Defense Force fighter jets training with U.S. strategic bombers and advanced stealth aircraft Tuesday in a show of force.

In his speech, Tillerson acknowledged the importance of the trilateral relationship if the campaign was to bear any fruit.

“This is the basis for the security structure of the region … and we continue to exercise together so that we are ready for any possible military response that might be required.”

It was not immediately clear whether Tillerson, whose influence has appeared to wane within the White House, had the backing of Trump to make such a radical shift.

The White House issued an ambiguous statement after Tillerson’s remarks that left unclear whether Trump had given his blessing for the speech.

“The president’s views on North Korea have not changed,” the statement said. “North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”

Tillerson had previously expressed a desire to reopen shuttered diplomatic channels with Pyongyang, but was called out by Trump over any attempt at doing so.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man … Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump tweeted in October, using his derisive nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Some analysts said the abrupt about-face had left them wondering if the remarks had been sanctioned by the White House.

“Of course, the question remaining here is how much was Tillerson — who looks like his job is in jeopardy — freelancing on this,” the Japan Institute of International Affairs’ Miller said. “There is a real possibility that others in the Trump administration may walk this back in the coming days.”

Tillerson said there were also other uncertainties, given that “we are dealing with a new leader in North Korea that no one ever engaged with.

“He clearly is not like his father, nor is he like his grandfather,” he said, referring to the current leader’s father, Kim Jong Il and the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

North Korea has repeatedly said in state-run media that the U.S. must first end its “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang before it would agree to any talks. Observers have said that it likely had little interest in negotiations with Washington until it has mastered the ability to hit the whole of the U.S. with a nuclear-tipped missile, something some experts say it has yet to achieve.

Kim on Tuesday vowed to “win victory in the showdown” against the U.S. by continuing to manufacture more of the “latest weapons and equipment” to “bolster up the nuclear force in quality and quantity,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday.

During his speech, Tillerson also revealed — apparently for the first time — that the U.S. and China had been talking about how the two would deal with the eruption of conflict or regime collapse in North Korea.

He said the most “important thing” to the U.S. “would be securing those nuclear weapons they’ve already developed, and that nothing falls into hands of” nonstate actors.

The Trump administration, Tillerson said, had assured Beijing that if U.S. troops were forced to move above the 38th parallel that divides the two Koreas to do so, American forces would pull back once the mission was complete.

“That is our commitment we made to them. Our only objective is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and that is all,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s comments come just days after United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman — America’s highest-ranking national in the U.N. Secretariat — returned from a visit to Pyongyang.

Feltman was quoted Tuesday as saying that North Korean officials had told him it was important to prevent war but offered no concrete proposal for talks.

“They listened seriously to our arguments,” Feltman said, though acknowledging that “they did not offer any type of commitment to us at that point.”

“I think they have to reflect on what we said with their own leadership,” he added.

He said he had urged Pyongyang to “signal that it was prepared to consider engagement” with world powers and that the United Nations could help.

“Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we’ve left the door ajar,” he said.

“I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide.”



Tillerson says U.S. ready to talk to North Korea; Japan wants pressure

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered to begin direct talks with North Korea without pre-conditions, backing away from a key U.S. demand that Pyongyang must first accept that giving up its nuclear arsenal would be part of any negotiations.

Tillerson’s new diplomatic overture comes 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 of its nuclear weapons.

“Let’s just meet,” Tillerson said in a speech to Washington’s Atlantic Council think tank on Tuesday.

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Russia defense ministry delegation arrives in North Korea

December 13, 2017


MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian defense ministry delegation has arrived in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the Interfax news agency cited North Korea’s embassy to Russia as saying on Wednesday.

No details of the visit were immediately available.

writing by Dmitry Solovyov; editing by Polina Devitt