Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Saturday the United States was directly communicating with North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs, but Pyongyang had shown no interest in dialogue, Reuters reports.

The disclosure came during a trip to China and represents the first time he has spoken to such an extent about U.S. outreach to North Korea over its pursuit of a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

"We are probing so stay tuned," Tillerson told a group of reporters in Beijing, adding, "We ask: 'Would you like to talk?' We have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We're not in a dark situation, a blackout."

The Secretary of State added that communication was happening directly and cited two or three U.S. channels open to Pyongyang.

"We can talk to them. We do talk to them," he said, without elaborating about which Americans were involved in those contacts or how frequent or substantive they were.

The goal of any initial dialogue would be simple: finding out directly from North Korea what it wants to discuss.

"We haven't even gotten that far yet," he acknowledged. The State Department said later there were no signs Pyongyang was interested in talks.

"North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization," department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

The comments come amid continuing tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, which increased after Pyongyang’s latest tests of a ballistic missile and what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb.

In his speech recently before the UN General Assembly, President Donald Trump nicknamed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man", and said he "is on suicide mission for himself and for his regime."

"No nation on earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arming itself with nuclear weapons and missiles," Trump said. "It is time for North Korea to realize that de-nuclearization is its only acceptable future."

In response, North Korean's foreign minister said Trump had made an "irreversible mistake" and threatened the "entire U.S. mainland" with missiles.

Trump warned North Korea last week that a military option would be "devastating" for Pyongyang, but said the use of force was not Washington's first option to deal with the country's ballistic and nuclear weapons program.

Tillerson has said in the past that the U.S. preferred a diplomatic resolution to the conflict with North Korea. In August, he criticized North Korea’s firing of three ballistic missiles but also stressed the United States will continue its “peaceful pressure campaign” on the isolated country.

The Secretary of State in March suggested the United States would only engage North Korea in negotiations once it gave up nuclear weapons, but he acknowledged on Saturday that denuclearization would be an "incremental process."

"You'd be foolish to think you´re going to sit down and say: OK, done. Nuclear weapons, gone. This is going to be a process of engagement with North Korea," he said.