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Kerry: US prepared for talks on ‘full range of issues’ with N. Korea

Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the U.S. was ready for talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on a “full range of issues” and urged China to help pressure the rogue leader.

“If he will meet the obligations that we've all set out that are necessary, we are prepared to negotiate on a full range of issues,” Kerry said in an interview on “CBS This Morning.”

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CBS reporter Margaret Brennan said Kerry told her the U.S. would consider negotiations with Pyongyang even if its military went ahead with a missile test Kim has been threatening to conduct.

Monday would have been the 101st birthday of Kim’s grandfather and early North Korean dictator, Kim Il Sung, and many are speculating the new leader will use the anniversary as an excuse to test-fire a missile.

Kerry is returning to the U.S. today after a six-nation tour of Asia, where he sought to reassure allies and build Chinese support for lowering tensions with North Korea.

In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell in Japan, the last stop of his tour, Kerry warned Pyongyang against carrying out a missile launch.

“Everybody understands the negative side of what happens if there is a shoot,” he said. “And my hope is that we can move in a different direction here,” he said. 

North Korea in recent weeks has ratcheted up its rhetoric, threatening to destroy the U.S. and South Korea in a nuclear war, and readying for a possible test of a mid-range missile. The heightened tensions follow a U.N. vote to tighten sanctions on the reclusive nation after it conducted its third nuclear test earlier this month. 

Kerry tempered his optimism about potential negotiations by acknowledging that North Korea has a history of bad-faith negotiations.

“All past attempts to convince North Korea to end its nuclear program have stopped, started and failed,” Kerry said on CBS.

“You better believe me that's why everyone is taking this differently. None of us want to go through same cycle of a phony negotiation that's being used as an excuse while the program continues,” he added.

Republican lawmakers, though, are skeptical that conducting talks with North Korea would prove fruitful, accusing the government of reneging on past accords.

Kerry is also calling on China to do more to end the missile crisis.

“If we're going to operate according to what's in people's interest, China's and everybody else's, I believe China needs to become more engaged in this effort,” he said. “It is obvious that China is the lifeline to North Korea. Everybody knows that China provides the vast majority of the fuel to North Korea.  China is their biggest trading party, their biggest food donor, and so forth.”

Kerry spoke with Chinese leaders on Saturday in hopes of convincing North Korea’s closest ally to take a greater role in calming tensions. 

In a joint statement, Kerry and his Chinese counterpart said they were committed to a reaching a nuclear-free Korean peninsula “in a peaceful manner.”

The White House has dismissed the threats from North Korea as “bellicose rhetoric,” but it has taken steps to augment missile defenses in Alaska and Guam.

— Published at 7:29 a.m. and has been updated.

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