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US ready to talk to North Korea without preconditions

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WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said Washington is ready to begin talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, without pre-conditions.

“We’re ready to have the first meeting without preconditions,” Tillerson told a meeting on the crisis at the Atlantic Council policy forum in Washington.

Tillerson’s new diplomatic overture comes nearly two weeks after North Korea said it had successfully tested a breakthrough intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that put the entire United States mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.

“Let’s just meet and let’s talk about the weather if you want and talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about,” Tillerson said.

This appeared to represent a softening in the US position, seeing as officials had previously demanded that Kim Jong-Un’s regime demonstrate a willingness to consider giving up its arsenal.

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But, the White House later issued an ambiguous statement that left unclear whether President Donald Trump — who has said Tillerson was wasting his time pursuing dialogue with North Korea — had given his approval for the speech.

“The president’s views on North Korea have not changed,” the White House said adding, “North Korea is acting in an unsafe way … North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-Un has vowed to make North Korea the “world’s strongest nuclear power,” tate media reported Wednesday.

Mr Kim told workers behind the recent test of a new missile that his country “will victoriously advance and leap as the strongest nuclear power and military power in the world,” in a ceremony on Tuesday, according to state news agency KCNA.

GNN/Reuters

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9 Syrians freeze to death while crossing to Lebanon

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BEIRUT — At least nine Syrians froze to death crossing into Lebanon when an icy storm hit a smuggling route in the mountains near a border post with Syria in the early hours of Friday, Lebanon’s army says.

Military officials said in a statement the Syrians, including two children and six women, were caught in a strong snowstorm while trying to cross the mountainous frontier between the two nations.

The military said in a statement that the bodies were found on a people-smuggling route in the early hours of Friday after a snowstorm hit the Masnaa area, where Lebanon’s largest official border crossing with Syria is located.

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“The army saved six other displaced Syrians, one of whom died later in a hospital from frostbite,” the statement added, raising the death toll to 10.

“The bodies were taken to the hospitals in the area, and the army continues to search for other displaced people trapped in the snow, in order to evacuate them and provide medical treatment for them.”

The army arrested two Syrians on smuggling charges and is still searching for others lost in the snow.

Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have now all closed their border crossings to Syrian refugees.

Syrians wishing to enter Lebanon must prove to Lebanese authorities they have reason to be in Lebanon, such as property ownership, an embassy appointment, or a residency permit.

Reuters/AP

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