Washington's top diplomat Tuesday expressed willingness to talk with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) without precondition, indicating a softening of the hawkish U.S. stance though the White House publicly remained unrelenting.
"We're ready to have the first meeting without precondition," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the 2017 Atlantic Council-Korea Foundation Forum, an annual policy forum co-hosted by think tanks Atlantic Council and Korea Foundation.
"Let's just meet," he told an audience of around 300, adding, "We can talk about the weather, if you want."
However, the White House, responding to Tillerson's remarks, said there was no policy change on the DPRK.
"The president's views on North Korea (the DPRK) have not changed," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement released soon after Tillerson's speech.
It was not the first time that Trump and Tillerson appeared to be not on the same track over the Korean Peninsula issue.
Trump snubbed his state secretary over two months ago when the latter was trying to reach out to Pyongyang to start a dialogue.
"Save your energy Rex," Trump tweeted.
Tuesday's remarks showed Tillerson's efforts to seek a peaceful solution amid escalating tension on the peninsula.
"Can we at least sit down and see each other face to face, and then we can begin to lay out a map, a roadmap, of what we might be willing to work towards?" Tillerson said at the forum.
"It's not realistic to say we're only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program," he said, referring to the DPRK's longtime devotion to nuclear and missile programs and fast advancement in the technology and Trump's warning of military intervention if the programs were not halted.
Tillerson said dialogue is possible whenever Pyongyang is ready.
The remarks came two weeks after the DPRK successfully test-fired a newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile, drawing strong condemnation from the international community.
It led to the U.S. re-designating the DPRK as a "state sponsor of terrorism" and a new round of sanctions on the country, seen by some experts as likely to escalate the ongoing confrontation between Pyongyang and Washington.
In his speech, Tillerson also asked for "a period of quiet" if the two countries were going to talk.
"We've got to have a period of quiet or it's going to be very difficult to have productive discussions," he said.
Washington and Pyongyang have been exchanging harsh rhetoric in the past months, with Trump threatening to rain down "fire and fury" and "totally destroy" the country.
The United States has been insisting that negotiations should be based on the DPRK's nuclear disarmament.
However, Tillerson's remarks seem to offer a chance for the longtime foes to sit down and restart their long suspended talk.
"The important thing is that we get started," Tillerson said.