North Korea must carry out a “sustained cessation” of weapons testing to allow talks to be held between it and Washington, announced US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday at a United Nations Security Council meeting on the isolated country.
“North Korea must earn its way back to the table. The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved,” he added without specifying how long the lull should last.
He told reporters after the meeting that the United States would not accept any preconditions for talks with North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs.
Tillerson had raised hopes this week that the United States and North Korea could negotiate to resolve their standoff when he said that the United States was “ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk.” But the White House distanced itself from those remarks by Tillerson and said that now is not the time for negotiations.
Asked Friday if he supported unconditional talks, US President Donald Trump did not answer directly.
"Well, we're going to see what happens with North Korea. We have a lot of support. There are a lot of nations that agree with us — almost everybody," Trump told reporters. He credited China — which accounts for about 90 percent of North Korea's external trade — with helping on pressuring North Korea, while Russia was not.
"We'd like to have Russia's help — very important," said Trump. He raised it in a Thursday phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations on Friday made no mention of Tillerson’s call for a halt to testing when he addressed the same UN meeting.
Ambassador Ja Song Nam said his country would not pose a threat to any state, as long as its interests were not infringed upon.
He described the Security Council session as “a desperate measure plotted by the US being terrified by the incredible might of our Republic that has successfully achieved the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”
North Korea has made clear it has little interest in negotiations with the United States until it has developed the ability to hit the US mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile, something most experts say it has yet to prove.
North Korea conducted missile tests at a steady pace since April, then paused in September after firing a rocket that passed over Japan’s Hokkaido island. But it renewed tests in November when it fired a new type of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), the Hwasong-15, which flew higher and further than previous tests.
China's deputy UN ambassador pushed back against US insistence that the Asian country holds the key to resolving North Korea's escalating nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Wu Haitao told the Security Council that "the current situation on the (Korean) Peninsula is not caused by any one party alone, and it is not possible to impose on any one party the responsibility of solving the problem."
Wu said: "The parties concerned should move towards each other instead of engaging in rhetoric blaming, and not shift responsibility to others."
He also criticized unilateral sanctions against North Korea — which the US, European Union, Japan and others have imposed — saying they undermine Security Council unity "and should be abandoned."
Wu added "the hope for peace is not totally obliterated" and urged all parties to "keep in mind the big picture of maintaining peace and stability" and end rhetoric that exacerbates tensions.
Japan's foreign minister urged the international community to maximize pressure on North Korea "by all means available," saying there is no other way to get Pyongyang to curb its escalating nuclear and missile programs.
Taro Kono announced that Japan has ordered the assets of 19 North Korean entities to be frozen, and he called on other countries to introduce or strengthen sanctions against the North.
Kono said last week's visit to Pyongyang by UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman "only reconfirmed the dire reality" that North Korea "is nowhere near ready" to abandon its nuclear and missile programs, "nor is it interested in returning to a meaningful dialogue."
He urged the Security Council not to backtrack from the demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear and missile programs "in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner."
Tillerson urged China and Russia on Friday to increase pressure on North Korea by going beyond the implementation of UN sanctions but the two countries were wary of the idea.
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow was committed to implementing UN sanctions on North Korea and echoed China’s concerns about unilateral sanctions.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council it was time to immediately re-establish and strengthen communication channels with North Korea, including inter-Korean and military-to-military channels, to reduce the risk of a misunderstanding escalating into conflict.