Russia welcomes Tillerson’s offer of talks ‘without pre-conditions’ with North Korea

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Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Moscow has welcomed a new U.S. offer of talks with North Korea, with senior Russian officials calling it constructive and the “only correct approach” to tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

The Russian remarks on December 13 came after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered talks with North Korea “without pre-conditions” — a shift from previous U.S. demands that Pyongyang accept giving up its nuclear weapons as the goal of any talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. / AFP

“Naturally, we support this approach. We believe that it is the only possible correct approach,” the Russian news agency Interfax quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

Russia would like to see “practical actions follow” such statements,” Ryabkov said.

Russia has supported several rounds of UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea, but has frequently accused the United States and South Korea of being too demanding and provoking Pyongyang by holding military exercises.

Ryabkov repeated calls by Russia for dialogue, saying that talks are “very much needed” and “should be accompanied…by maximum restraint in terms of conducting military events that may be seen by Pyongyang as threatening.”

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Tillerson’s statement was “constructive” and an improvement over what he called “the confrontational rhetoric we have heard so far.”

Russia has less influence on North Korea than China does, but its ties with Pyongyang — long a recipient of Moscow’s support in the Soviet era — are far warmer than the tense U.S.-North Korean relationship.

Interfax cited a spokeswoman for the Russian Embassy in North Korea as saying that a Russian Defense Ministry delegation arrived in Pyongyang on December 12 and would stay until December 16.

Spokeswoman Yulia Shevelyova said she did not have details about the purpose of the visit, Interfax reported, and Peskov declined to comment.

In his remarks on December 12, Tillerson said that it would be “unrealistic” to expect Pyongyang to come to the negotiating table ready to give up weapons that it invested so much in developing.

He reiterated that Washington cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, but said that after a “period of quiet” without nuclear and missile tests, the United States would be “ready to talk any time they’re ready to talk.”

“Let’s just meet,” he said in a speech to the Atlantic Council think-tank in Washington.

Tillerson spoke two weeks after North Korea conducted a test with a missile that could potentially carry a nuclear warhead to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from threatening the United States with nuclear weapons, using military force if necessary.

The diplomatic overture also came after the first visit to North Korea by a high-level UN emissary in six years.

UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said on December 12 that he believes his visit last week may have created an opening for negotiations.

But Feltman said that North Korean officials made no commitments — and as he spoke, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to make his country a nuclear power and build more intercontinental ballistic missiles like the one the country tested two weeks ago.

Tillerson said Trump had endorsed his change of position, but the White House later issued a statement saying Trump’s views on North Korea have not changed.


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. / AFP