SEOUL/ABUJA, NIGERIA – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. expects North Korea to be in direct touch after President Donald Trump agreed to Kim Jong Un’s invitation to meet, urging patience as preparations for the potentially historic handshake are worked out.
“We’ve not heard anything directly back from North Korea, although we expect to hear something directly from them,” Tillerson said in Abuja, Nigeria, in response to a reporter’s question about the timing and location of the meeting. “I know those are all questions that people are anxious to have answers to. I would say just remain patient and we’ll see what happens.”
Tillerson’s remarks that these things take time contrast with Trump’s on-the-spot acceptance of Kim’s invitation when South Korea’s national security adviser informed him about it at the White House last week. Trump dispensed with decades of U.S. foreign policy orthodoxy with his decision, particularly given that the North Korean leader made only a vague offer — conveyed via a South Korean delegation that visited him — to discuss giving up his nuclear weapons program.
The decision to meet drew support from countries seeking to defuse tensions between North Korea and the U.S., along with warnings that Kim may be playing for more time to develop his weapons while seeking relief from U.S.-led international sanctions.
Tillerson has been working the issue several time zones ahead of the American East Coast during a five-nation swing through sub-Saharan Africa. Dealing with the North Korea issue is one reason he decided Monday to cut short the trip by a day and return home. Trump’s announcement has raised speculation about whether the meeting will actually go ahead, what North Korea will demand from the U.S. and even where the two leaders might meet.
“Nothing’s been agreed and I don’t want to start floating ideas out through the media,” Tillerson said in Abuja alongside Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama. “I think it’s going to be very important that those kind of conversations are held quietly through the two parties.”
Still, Tillerson provided a few more specifics to reporters on the flight back from Nigeria. He said Russia, China and Japan would all have a stake in the discussions, and that the meeting is about the two men “getting a sense of one another” to see if there’s a will for structured negotiations.
“I think we’re going to be wanting to find a nice neutral site where both parties will feel confident,” Tillerson said. “I have a lot of confidence in my ability to create the conditions for successful negotiations between two very disparate parties.”