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US hints at preliminary talks with North Korea

State Department spokesperson reiterates stance on denuclearization

Recent comments from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence have been taken as a sign of Washington softening its stance toward North Korea.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON -- U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert hinted at the possibility of Washington engaging in preliminary talks with North Korea at a press briefing on Tuesday.

If they were to go ahead, the talks would be "a preliminary chat" aimed at setting an agenda for more substantial dialogue on ending the country's nuclear and missile development programs.

"We've always been clear about our policy of denuclearization, and that has not changed," she said.

Nauert also reiterated recent comments made by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence that were taken as a sign of Washington softening its stance toward Pyongyang. "[The] maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we'll talk." 

Whether North Korea will agree to talks on denuclearization, however, remains unclear.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that North Korea was likely to continue weapons testing in 2018.

Coats also stated that North Korea presented "a potentially existential" threat to the U.S. and that "decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond to this."

"Our goal is a peaceful settlement. We are using maximum pressure on North Korea in various ways," he added.

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