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Tillerson: U.S. talking 'directly' to North Korea

By Sam Howard
Tillerson: U.S. talking 'directly' to North Korea
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) is greeted by Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sept. 30, 2017. Tillerson held top-level talks in China as the United States looks to tighten an economic embargo aimed at persuading North Korea to retreat from its nuclear arms and missile programs. During the trip, he said Saturday that U.S. officials have tried to communicate with North Korea. Photo by State Department/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 30 (UPI) -- In Beijing meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Saturday the United States is "probing" North Korea over recent nuclear threats between the two countries.

Tillerson, in China a day after the White House announced President Donald Trump would travel to China and a handful of other Asian countries in early November, told reporters to "stay tuned" over whether diplomatic talks may begin between U.S. officials and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the New York Times reported.

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Kim and Trump have lobbed threats at each other over the past couple months, while North Korea has test-launched multiple missiles. The situation between the two nations "is a bit overheated right now," Tillerson said, according to Bloomberg.

"We ask, 'Would you like to talk?'" Tillerson said. "We have lines of communications to Pyongyang -- we're not in a dark situation, a blackout. We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang."

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The United States talks to Pyongyang "directly" through those "channels," Tillerson said, not through China. But he wouldn't say if North Korean officials have responded.

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Tillerson distanced Trump administration's communication with North Korea from the backchannel talks President Barack Obama's administration used to facilitate the international deal with Iran to ban the nation from pursuing a nuclear arms program.

"We are not going to put together a nuclear deal in North Korea that is as flimsy as the one in Iran," Tillerson said.

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Speaking earlier Saturday before his meeting with Tillerson, Xi said he looks forward to Trump's trip to the region in November.

"I believe that President Trump's upcoming visit to China means ... an opportunity for the furtherance of China-U.S. relationship, and I hope the teams on both sides will make full preparation for this important event. And I believe his visit will be special, wonderful, and successful," Xi said.

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