The United States is quietly pursuing direct diplomacy with North Korea, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday, despite US President Donald Trump’s public assertion that such talks are a waste of time.
Using the so-called “New York channel,” Joseph Yun, US negotiator with North Korea, has been in contact with diplomats at Pyongyang’s United Nations mission, the official said, at a time when an exchange of bellicose insults between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has fueled fears of military conflict.
While U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on October 17 said he would continue “diplomatic efforts … until the first bomb drops,” the official’s comments were the clearest sign the United States was directly discussing issues beyond the release of American prisoners, despite Trump having dismissed direct talks as pointless.
There is no sign, however, that the behind-the-scenes communications have improved a relationship vexed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, the death of US university student Otto Warmbier days after his release by Pyongyang in June and the detention of three other Americans.
Word of quiet engagement with Pyongyang comes despite Trump’s comments, North Korea’s weapons advances and suggestions by some U.S. and South Korean officials that Yun’s interactions with North Koreans had been reined in.