Tillerson opens up about US outreach to North Korea

ReutersMen walk past a street monitor showing North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un in a news report about North Korea's nuclear test, in Tokyo, Japan

The United States said on Saturday it was directly communicating with North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs but Pyongyang had shown no interest in dialogue.

The disclosure by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a committed Christian, during a trip to China represented the first time he has spoken to such an extent about U.S. outreach to North Korea over its pursuit of a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

'We are probing so stay tuned,' Tillerson told a group of reporters in Beijing.

'We ask: "Would you like to talk?" We have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We're not in a dark situation, a blackout.'

He said that communication was happening directly and cited two or three U.S. channels open to Pyongyang.

'We can talk to them. We do talk to them,' he said, without elaborating about which Americans were involved in those contacts or how frequent or substantive they were.

The goal of any initial dialogue would be simple: finding out directly from North Korea what it wants to discuss.

'We haven't even gotten that far yet,' he said.

Trying to tamp down expectations, the State Department said later there were no signs Pyongyang was interested in talks.

'North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearisation,' department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Tillerson previously had offered little detail about U.S. outreach. On Sept. 20, he acknowledged only 'very, very limited' contact with Pyongyang's U.N. envoy.

When asked about Tillerson's assertion and what communication there might be between Pyongyang and Washington, a spokesman for the North Korean mission to the United Nations said he 'can't go further into detail'.