Tillerson says US willing to talk to North Korea without pre-condition

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a forum on US-South Korea relations at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 13 December 2017
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Tillerson says US willing to talk to North Korea without pre-condition

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered on Tuesday to begin talks with North Korea without pre-conditions, appearing to back away from US demands that Pyongyang must first accept that any negotiations would have to be based on North Korean nuclear disarmament.
“Let’s just meet,” Tillerson said in a speech to Washington think tank the Atlantic Council, presenting a new diplomatic overture amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile advances and harsh rhetoric between the two sides.
Tensions have flared anew since North Korea said it had successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile last month in what it called a “breakthrough” that put the US mainland within range.
While reiterating Washington’s long-standing position that it cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, Tillerson said the United States was “ready to talk any time they’re ready to talk,” but that Pyongyang must come to the table willing to make choices to change its course.
“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,” he said.
“Then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work toward,” Tillerson said, suggesting that any initial contacts would be about setting the ground rules for formal negotiations.
It was not immediately clear whether Tillerson, whose influence has appeared to wane within the administration, had President Donald Trump’s full support to seek such a diplomatic opening.
Tillerson has previously expressed a desire to use diplomatic channels with Pyongyang, but Trump tweeted in October that such engagement would be a waste of time.
North Korea, for its part, has made clear that it has little interest in negotiations with the United States until it has developed the ability to hit the US mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile, something most experts say it has still not achieved.
“We’re ready to have the first meeting without pre-conditions,” Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council.
“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. “They have too much invested in it. The president is very realistic about that as well.”
Tillerson also said that the United States was working to tighten enforcement of international sanctions against North Korea, especially further measures that China can apply, and that Washington had a full menu of military options if such a response is needed. He said the United States has had conversations with China about how North Korean nuclear weapons might be secured in a crisis and has assured Beijing that if US forces had to cross into North Korea they would return to South Korea.
But he made clear that the United States wants to resolve the North Korea standoff through peaceful diplomacy.


Joy as US-seized bells return to Philippine church

Updated 15 December 2018
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Joy as US-seized bells return to Philippine church

  • US troops carted away the bronze objects as trophies in reprisal for a surprise 1901 attack
  • For the people of Balangiga the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for independence

BALANGIGA, Philippines: A sleepy central Philippine town erupted in joy on Saturday as bells looted from its church more than a century ago by vengeful US troops were to be turned over to the community.
Children waving bell-shaped signs and tearful residents in Balangiga gathered to welcome home the three bells that are a deep local source of pride, and which the US flew to Manila this week after decades of urging by the Philippines.
US troops carted away the bronze objects as trophies, after razing the town and killing potentially thousands of Filipinos, in reprisal for a surprise 1901 attack that left 48 of their comrades dead.
For the people of Balangiga the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for independence, and a dark chapter which is the subject of an annual re-enactment and remembrance event locally.
“It’s not just me but the whole town is walking in the clouds because the bells are finally with us,” 81-year-old Nemesio Duran told AFP.
“We are the happiest people on Earth now,” he added, noting he is descended from the boy who rang one of the bells, long said to have signalled the attack on the Americans.
The bells arrived in Balangiga late Friday ahead of an official handover ceremony set for later Saturday, but the town’s streets were already crowded with people and vendors selling T-shirts saying “Balangiga bells finally home.”
The ceremony will be not far from the town plaza that holds a monument with statues of the American soldiers having breakfast as the Filipino revolutionaries raise their machetes at the start of the onslaught.
Manila has been pushing for the bells’ return since at least the 1990s, with backing from Philippine presidents, its influential Catholic Church and supporters in the United States.
But the repatriation was long held back by some American lawmakers and veterans who viewed the bells, two of which were in the US state of Wyoming and the third at a US base in South Korea, as tributes to fallen soldiers.
A confluence of factors earlier this year, that included a key veterans’ group dropping its opposition, culminated in the bells landing in Manila aboard a US military cargo plane on Tuesday for a solemn handover.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, 73, bluntly called on Washington in a 2017 speech: “Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are not yours.”
His arrival in power in mid-2016 was marked by moves to split from Manila’s historical ally and former colonial master the United States. At the same time Duterte signalled an end to the standoff with Beijing over the disputed South China Sea.
Yet for some in Balangiga the bells’ return is also a somber occasion tinged with the pain of the past, which has been passed from generation to generation.
“It’s mixed emotions because the bells also remind me of what happened,” Constancia Elaba, 62, told AFP, adding how she grew up hearing stories of the episode from her father.
“It was painful and you cannot take it away from us. We can never forget that,” she said.