Tillerson made the comments in a meeting with South Korean presidential envoy Hong Seok-hyun. This is one in a series of meetings indicating that Washington may be backing off its aggressive military stance toward Pyongyang and might be open to a diplomatic solution.
"The most impressive thing that I heard [from Tillerson] was that sanctions and pressure are not by themselves aimed at harassing North Korea, but are designed to create an opportunity for North Korea's development through opening its doors and scrapping its nuclear program," Hong said, Yonhap reported.
Tillerson added that if the North cooperates there are businesses that may be interested in investing in the impoverished nation. A member of the South Korean delegation said Tillerson also reiterated Washington’s promise to not seek regime change or conduct an invasion.
The secretary of state also said that Pyongyang shouldn’t question the US’ intentions "through back channels," as Washington intends to communicate with the country through public channels.
Hong met with US President Donald Trump at the White House when he landed in Washington on Wednesday. Trump reportedly told him he wanted to help settle the nuclear issue with North Korea by working with recently elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Trump expressed interest in entering talks with the North under the right circumstances, but that he wasn’t interested in talks that don’t help produce solutions.
While in the US, Hong also met with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to discuss the US’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) in South Korea and to review recent developments in the North’s missile and nuclear program.
A turn towards diplomacy would be a drastic change for the US, which has engaged in saber rattling with North Korea over the last few months. Shortly after Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian government air base, he claimed to be sending an "armada" to the Korean peninsula, a US Navy carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson.
Though the vessels were spotted near Indonesia at the time, they eventually did end up at the Korean Peninsula for trilateral military exercises with Japan and South Korea, and were later joined by the USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine armed with Tomahawk missiles.
Though the US president has said that a "major, major" conflict with the North is possible, he has also said he would be “honored” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un under unspecified circumstances.