WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House ruled out talks with North Korea except to discuss the fate of Americans held there, again appearing to rebuke Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who said Washington was directly communicating with Pyongyang on its nuclear and missile programs.
“We’ve been clear that now is not the time to talk,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, reiterating a tweet from President Donald Trump at the weekend that was seen as undercutting Tillerson.
“The only conversations that have taken place were that … would be on bringing back Americans who have been detained,” Sanders said. “Beyond that, there will be no conversations with North Korea at this time.”
Tillerson said on Saturday during a trip to China that the United States was directly communicating with North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs but that Pyongyang had shown no interest in dialogue.
Trump, who has traded insults and threats with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in recent weeks, later dismissed any prospect of talks with North Korea as a waste of time.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful secretary of state, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump wrote on Twitter, using his sarcastic nickname for Kim. “Save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump wrote.
It was not the first time the White House and State Department have seemed at odds on policy issues, but when asked if Trump still had confidence in Tillerson as secretary of state, Sanders said: “He does.”
A senior administration official said Tillerson misspoke. “I think it was just him misspeaking. He was just acknowledging the fact that we do have channels and we might have reason to talk if North Korea’s behavior changes sometime down the road,” the official said.