North Korea must cease 'threatening behaviour' before talks can begin, says Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says there must be a "sustained cessation of North Korea's threatening behaviour" before talks can occur between Washington and Pyongyang.

U.S. secretary of state criticizes China over oil ties and Russia for using North Korean labourers

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged Russia and China to boost pressure on North Korea beyond implementation of UN sanctions. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Friday there must be a "sustained cessation of North Korea's threatening behaviour" before talks can occur between Washington and Pyongyang, but he did not specify a length of time for a lull.

"Apart from that step, there are no preconditions for talks, nor will we accept pre-conditions from North Korea or others," Tillerson told a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

"North Korea must earn its way back to the table. The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved," Tillerson told the meeting.

Tillerson on Tuesday appeared to be waiving pre-conditions for negotiations with Pyongyang when he said his country was "ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk." The White House distanced itself from Tillerson's remarks and said now is not the time for talks.

As he addressed the Security Council, Tillerson said the campaign of economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea "must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved. We will, in the meantime, keep our channels of communication open."

North Korea has conducted 20 ballistic missile launches this year, including the first tests of two intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Tillerson also called on China and Russia to increase pressure on North Korea by going beyond the implementation of UN sanctions. The council has ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea since 2006.

He criticized both China and Russia for their economic ties to North Korea. He said Russia is allowing North Korean labourers to toil in "slave-like conditions" for wages used to fund nuclear weapons, calling into question "Russia's dedication as a partner for peace."

Tillerson said that with crude oil still flowing into North Korean refineries, the U.S. also questions China's commitment to "solving an issue that has serious implications for the security of its own citizens."

Also Friday, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said North Korea's most recent test of a long-range missile did not demonstrate an imminent threat to the United States. Shortly after the late-November test, Mattis said the missile flew higher than any previous North Korean test, and that it represented a continued effort to build a missile capable of threatening the U.S.

In an exchange with reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, Mattis was asked whether the missile test indicated an imminent threat of nuclear attack on the U.S.

Mattis' response was: "No, not yet." He said U.S. experts are still doing what he called "forensic analysis." This presumably refers to studies of imagery of the missile in flight and the re-entry of its mock warhead into the Earth's atmosphere.

UN chief warns against 'dangerous narratives' 

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres also addressed the North Korea question on Friday, telling 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.

"While all concerned seek to avoid an accidental escalation leading to conflict, the risk is being multiplied by misplaced overconfidence, dangerous narratives and rhetoric, and the lack of communication channels," Guterres said.

With files from The Associated Press