US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has warned North Korea it risks serious escalation if it fails to engage in serious talks over its missile and nuclear programmes.
‘We have to recognize that the threat is growing. And if North Korea does not choose the path of engagement, of discussion, negotiations, then they themselves will trigger an option,’ he told reporters at a press conference in Vancouver, Canada.
‘The North Koreans know our channels are open, and they know where to find us,’ he added.
During the same press conference, Tillerson refused to confirm or deny whether President Donald Trump had spoken to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un over the phone. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last week, Trump had also refused to comment on whether he had spoken with Kim.
Tillerson spoke to the press at the end of a 20-nation summit in Vancouver called to discuss ways to strengthen sanctions against North Korea.
The summit comes amid an easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula, as Pyongyang prepares to send a delegation of athletes, singers, and dancers to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Late on Wednesday, the two countries announced they would march together under a common flag during the opening ceremony of the games.
The temporary rapprochement between the Koreas is the brainchild of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In, who knows the move is likely to be popular among voters. But as this blog noted earlier in the month, Pyongyang has lashed out violently when left out of such games in the past, and that fact undoubtedly influenced Moon’s decision.
Both Japan and US remain sceptical about Kim’s intentions. Japan’s foreign minister Taro Kono warned that games diplomacy was a ploy by Pyongyang to get sanctions against it loosened.
‘North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and missile programs even as we speak, and we should not be naive about their intent,’ Kono warned.
The nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula is likely to resume once the games are concluded.