Tillerson Tamps Down Hopes for North Korea Nuclear Breakthrough

(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played down hopes for a breakthrough on North Korea’s nuclear program, saying the U.S. is a “long way” from negotiations after the country’s leader offered to give up his weapons in exchange for security guarantees.

“We’re a long way from negotiations, we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it,” Tillerson said Thursday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in his first comments since South Korean envoys met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and reported his willingness to accede to U.S. demands. The secretary called the signals coming from Pyongyang “potentially positive.”

Tillerson’s comments echo those of senior administration officials, who’ve expressed skepticism in the days since Kim promised to freeze weapons tests as discussions continue. A South Korean delegation is set to be in Washington later Thursday to brief officials on their discussions with North Korean leaders.

Tillerson has frequently repeated his desire to get into a room with North Korean officials to determine their seriousness about credible negotiations over dismantling the state’s nuclear program. That has occasionally caused tension with the White House, as when he was forced to walk back an offer to meet North Korean leaders “without preconditions” -- something past administrations have resisted.

Speaking alongside Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu, Tillerson again said he wanted “some kind of talks about talks” with North Korea.

“I don’t know yet until we are able to meet ourselves face-to-face with representatives of North Korea whether the conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations,” Tillerson said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has also tried to diminish expectations. Moon, who agreed to meet Kim for a summit next month at the border village of Panmunjom, said Wednesday “we can’t be optimistic just yet” about progress with North Korea.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.