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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) looks at Chinese President Xi Jinping walking to his seat during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 30, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the United States has opened channels of communication with North Korea and is investigating whether the government in Pyongyang is ready to enter negotiations on surrendering its nuclear weapons.
Tillerson made the announcement on Saturday amid an escalating war of words between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
"We are probing, so stay tuned," the top US diplomat told reporters after he held talks with Chinese officials in Beijing. "We ask. We have lines of communication with Pyongyang. We're not in a dark situation, a blackout, we have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang."
"We can talk to them, we do talk to them," he said.
When asked whether China was acting as a mediator between Washington and Pyongyang, Tillerson said: "Our own channels."
Tillerson is in China to meet China's top diplomats and President Xi Jinping in order to make preparations for Trump's visit to Beijing in November.
North Korea has conducted several nuclear tests and missile test-launches in response to US threats against the country.
The North Korean leader ordered the production of more rocket warheads and engines last month, shortly after the United States suggested that its threats of military action and sanctions were having an impact on Pyongyang’s behavior.
Pyongyang says it will not give up on its nuclear deterrence unless Washington ends its hostile policy toward the country and dissolves the US-led UN command in South Korea. Thousands of US soldiers are stationed in South Korea and Japan.
The Trump administration has repeatedly said in recent weeks that all options are on the table, and has deployed a strike group and a nuclear-powered submarine to the region in a show of force.
The United States has also imposed harsh financial sanctions on North Korea.
Trump has said North Korea’s nuclear and ballistics programs are "a grave threat to peace and security in our world.”
Trump warned North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a speech to the UN General Assembly last week that the United States would “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if necessary.
In response, North Korea said Trump’s threat constitutes a declaration of war against Pyongyang.
A North Korean state body that handles external propaganda has called Trump an "old psychopath" on "a suicidal act of inviting a nuclear disaster that will reduce America into a sea of flames.”

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