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McMaster contradicts Tillerson on possible talks with North Korea

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National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Wednesday dismissed the proposal Secretary of State Rex Tillerson floated Tuesday that the U.S. is open to talks with North Korea without conditions. He suggested reporting on Tillerson's remarks was incorrect — even though the comments came directly from Tillerson in a public forum. 

McMaster framed the proposal for possible talks as part of a process, not an end in and of itself. 

"I know there's some reporting yesterday about Secretary Tillerson said we're open to initiating negotiations, but those negotiations are not—or talks, you know—would be, are not an end in and of themselves, and there would be no preconditions to those—when he said there will be no preconditions, what that means is, we're not going to alleviate, we're not going to relieve any pressure on North Korea or give in to any demands they might make for payoffs," McMaster said Wednesday in remarks at the Jamestown Foundation. 

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The national security adviser also said that because North Korea "is a regime that uses extortion on a routine basis as a part of their policy," there is a singular goal the U.S. must pursue — denuclearization. 

"Denuclearization is the only viable objective and if we all focus on that, we have a strong chance for success," McMaster said. 

But the "reporting" McMaster questioned came directly from Tillerson. On Tuesday, Tillerson took some by surprise when he suggested the U.S. would be open to talks with the North "without preconditions."

"When do the talks begin? We have said, from the diplomatic side, we are ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk. And we are ready to have the first meeting without preconditions. Let's just meet," Tillerson said Tuesday at at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. 

The secretary of state added, "We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk whether it is going to be a square table or a round table if that is what you are excited about."

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"But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face," Tillerson said. "And then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map of what we might be willing to work towards. I don't think, it's not realistic to say we are only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They have too much invested in it. And the president is very realistic about that as well. So it is really about how do you begin the process of engagement."

Earlier in the year at the United Nations, Tillerson had said North Korea first must take steps to reduce the threat of its nuclear arsenal before talks could be an option. 

President Trump has softened his language on North Korea some in recent weeks, a shift from the summer when he threatened "fire and fury" and to "totally destroy" North Korea if necessary. 

CBS News' Margaret Brennan, Rebecca Shabad and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report. 

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