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Tillerson leaves open possibility of US talks with North Korea during Olympics

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at a White House press briefing after President Donald Trump declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday left open the possibility of face-to-face talks between U.S. officials traveling with Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean officials on the sidelines of the Olympic Games that start this week in South Korea.

“With respect to the vice president’s trip to the Olympics and whether or not there would be an opportunity for any kind of a meeting with North Korea, I think we’ll just see,” Tillerson said.

“We’ll have to see what happens,” he added. When a reporter suggested that meant “No,” he replied, “We’ll see, we’ll see what happens.”

Tillerson spoke at a news conference in Lima, Peru. He is on a five-country, seven-day trip to Latin America that wraps up Wednesday.

Pence was scheduled to leave Monday on a five-day trip to Japan and South Korea, where he will head the U.S. delegation to the Winter Games in PyeongChang. Athletes from North and South Korea plan to march together under a single flag during the opening ceremonies in a rare bit of rapprochement.

Pence has invited the father of Otto Warmbier — the American student who died last year after being jailed in North Korea — as his guest. Pence’s aides said Fred Warmbier will help dramatize the abuses of the Kim Jong Un government, and help counter North Korean propaganda at the games.

The Trump administration was caught off guard when Kim suggested in a New Year’s message that he would be willing to send athletes to PyeongChang — and South Korea quickly accepted.

Tillerson has long advocated diplomacy and sanctions to pressure Kim’s government to give up its nuclear arsenal, and last year said he would be willing to negotiate with the government in Pyongyang under the proper conditions to ease the threat.

President Donald Trump has variously said he would be “honored” to meet Kim, derided him as “Little Rocket Man,” and threatened to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea.


© 2018 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.