Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hopes "to sit and have a dialogue" with North Korea about how to defuse the threat of the regime's nuclear weapons program, he told reporters Tuesday.
"We have reaffirmed our position towards North Korea, that ... we do not seek a regime change," Tillerson said during a State Department press briefing. "We do not seek the collapse of the regime."
Tillerson explained the U.S. is implementing a policy of "peaceful pressure" on dictator Kim Jong Un, who has pressed ahead with the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles that can deliver a nuclear weapon to the U.S. Tillerson stipulated direct dialogue with the North Koreans should take place with the understanding that the regime will dismantle its nuclear program.
"We are trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy," Tillerson said. "And we hope at some point, they will begin to understand that and that we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek and the future economic prosperity for North Korea but that will then promote economic prosperity throughout northeast Asia."
Tillerson has dubbed that policy "peaceful pressure," but it depends heavily on China. He noted that China "account[s] for 90 percent of economic activity of North Korea" — ties that have provided the regime with the money needed to develop the weapons program. But Tillerson also dialed back condemnation of China, perhaps in response to recent Chinese government rejections of responsibility for the North Korea crisis.
"We certainly don't blame the Chinese for the situation in North Korea," Tillerson said. "Only the North Koreans are to blame for the situation."
Chinese officials have criticized U.S. rhetoric about their influence over North Korea. A Foreign Ministry spokesman suggested in July that the U.S. as "ulterior motives for it, trying to shift responsibility."
Tillerson said the North Korea crisis is also helping U.S. officials gauge the prospects for a long-term relationship with China, which is a rising power in the Pacific.
"We test this relationship through things like the situation in North Korea," he said. "Can we work together to address this global threat where we have a common objective? And where we have differences — in the South China Sea, and we have some trading differences that need to be addressed — can we work through those differences in a way without it leading to open conflict and find the solutions that are necessary to serve us both."