Pyongyang and Washington’s top diplomats will soon sit down in the same room for the first time.
On Sunday, Ri Yong Ho and Rex Tillerson will both be in the Philippines for the annual Association of Southeastern Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Regional Forum, a dialogue to discuss security issues which includes 27 countries.
It’s the highest-level annual encounter between North Korea and the United States, says Mike Fuchs, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and the first during the Trump administration.
“It will be a very important opportunity again for the United States and North Korea to send messages — unvarnished, with no middle-men — to one another about their policies,” Fuchs said. “The interesting dynamic is the signals sent from one to the other when they’re in the room together.”
Tillerson will have the tough task of trying to reassure allies in the room like Japan and South Korea while also trying to make clear to North Korea what the United States can and cannot accept from Pyongyang’s rapidly progressing weapons program, Fuchs, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told CNN.
It remains unclear if the two sides will have lower-level meetings. “There’s not going to be a huge sitdown. There may be third party intermediaries to try to relay messages back,” said Rodger Baker, the vice president of strategic analysis at Stratfor.