File Photo: Soldiers attend a military parade in central Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. (Xinhua/Cheng Dayu)
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) -- Are the U.S. top brass' starkly contradictory remarks on possible talks with Pyongyang merely an indication of no fundamental changes in U.S. policies or a clever double-pronged attempt to ease the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula?
Some experts seem to think it's the latter.
TILLERSON'S OLIVE BRANCH
A new note was struck when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier this month that the United States wishes to engage in unconditional talks with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), whenever Pyongyang is ready.
"We're ready to have the first meeting without precondition," Tillerson said at a forum. "Let's just meet...we can talk about the weather if you want.... But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face? And then we can begin to lay out a map, a roadmap of what we might be willing to work towards."
However, he did not veer off entirely from the official line, saying it would be difficult to talk if in the middle of the dialogue Pyongyang decided to conduct another nuclear test.
"We've got to have a period of quiet or it's going to be very difficult to have productive discussions," he said.
His comments triggered a response from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who said U.S. President Donald Trump's views on the DPRK issue have not changed.
Pyongyang is "acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China and South Korea, but the entire world," she said.
White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Wednesday that denuclearization is "the only viable objective" on the Korean Peninsula and talks with Pyongyang "won't be an end in themselves."
The United States will not relieve any pressure on Pyongyang or cave in to any demands for pay-offs, he said.
GOOD COP, BAD COP?
But some analysts see some alignment in the seemingly contradictory stands.
"At best, the divide between President Trump and Secretary Tillerson reflects a strategy of good cop, bad cop where the State Department and diplomats will continue to pursue peaceful means to resolve the conflict while President Trump's rhetoric steps up the pressure on the DPRK," Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, told Xinhua.
"At worst, it reflects a fundamental disconnect between the President and the U.S. chief diplomat. I imagine that the circumstances are somewhere in between, but closer to the best-case scenario," he said.
Many in the President's national security team understand how destructive a conflict with Pyongyang can be, he added.
Troy Stangarone, senior director at the Korea Economic Institute, told Xinhua that Tillerson was trying to find a way to engage the DPRK as part of an ongoing effort to find a way to resolve the situation peacefully.
He thought Tillerson was proposing to meet to begin a bilateral dialogue instead of negotiations. "In that sense, Tillerson's proposal is not inconsistent with the White House comments that negotiations need to be about denuclearization," he said.
Speaking of the influence Tillerson's announcement might have, he said the ultimate impact will depend more on Pyongyang's willingness to talk.
The fact that Trump was supportive of the recent trip to Pyongyang by Jeffrey Feltman, UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, indicated he is open to finding a way to resolve the DPRK issue through dialogue, Stangarone said.
MOUNTING CALLS FOR TALKS
Meanwhile, there are growing calls in the U.S. political and academic circles for direct talks with the DPRK, which many say is the only way to solve the nuclear deadlock.
William Perry, a former U.S. defense secretary, said Tillerson's remarks on unconditional talks with the DPRK were very encouraging.
"We must find a way to come to the table in order to de-escalate the volatile situation," he tweeted.
Michael J. Green, a National Security Council official in the George W. Bush administration, said some communication and consultation with Pyongyang was appropriate.