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(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is prepared to negotiate with North Korea without preconditions, though Kim Jong Un's regime should be ready to "make a different" choice with regards to its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs for talks to continue, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

"We're ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk and we're ready to have the first meeting without preconditions," Tillerson said in a speech Tuesday at the Atlantic Council in Washington. "Let's just meet. We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it's going to be a square table or a round table if that's what you're excited about."

Tillerson said earlier in the day that he's pleased with the progress so far in ramping up pressure on North Korea, an effort that relies largely on tougher United Nations sanctions and greater cooperation with China. He said more than 22 countries -- including Peru and Mexico -- have so far sent North Korean diplomats home, and described the new sanctions regime as "extreme."

An "important part of our diplomatic success is that we have a strong military presence standing behind us so that if North Korea makes bad choices, we're prepared," he added.

Terry Branstad, the U.S. ambassador to China, said last week that North Korea needs to renounce further nuclear or missile tests before sitting down for talks. He called Kim's push for nuclear weapons "the biggest threat to humankind right now." Six-party negotiations with North Korea over its weapons programs haven't taken place since 2009.

Tillerson's comments come just days after the UN envoy to North Korea, Jeffrey Feltman, returned from visiting Pyongyang. Feltman is due to brief the UN Security Council on his trip later on Tuesday.

NW News on 12/13/2017

Print Headline: U.S. Is Ready to Talk to North Korea `Anytime,' Tillerson Says

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