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Rex Tillerson: US in contact with North Korea, 'probing' willingness to talk

The US has open channels of communication with North Korea, Rex Tillerson says. The secretary of state says officials are investigating whether the regime is ready to enter talks on giving up its nuclear weapons program.

The United States has multiple channels of direct communication open with North Korea and officials will look into whether further dialogue could become possible, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left in photo) said on Saturday, although added later said that Pyongyang had so far shown no interest in such discussions.

"We are probing, so stay tuned," Tillerson told reporters after talks with Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping (right in photo), in Beijing. "We ask. We have lines of communication with Pyongyang. We're not in a dark situation, a blackout... We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang."

Watch video 02:15

US and North Korea in dangerous war of words

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

The attempts, however, do not mean that effective communication is occurring.

Just after Tillerson's comments, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement: "North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization."

The secretary of state's comments come as a war of words between US President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un, continues to escalate.

Before Tillerson announced the diplomatic opening, a North Korean state body that handles external propaganda lobbed a new insult at Trump, calling the US president an "old psychopath" on "a suicidal act of inviting a nuclear disaster that will reduce America into a sea of flames."

North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests to date and 15 missile launches this year alone.

It is Tillerson's second visit as secretary of state to China. Trump, who will travel to Asia in November, has repeatedly urged China to exert more pressure on North Korea, one of its regional allies and trading partners, to reverse its nuclear and missile programs.

China has backed UN sanctions on its ally. On Thursday, the government announced that North Korean companies must close their operations in China by January in line with the latest round of international penalties.

mkg/jlw (Reuters, AFP)

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