MUNICH — A Republican lawmaker said the United States is “of course” open to talk with North Korea in an effort to defuse an escalating conflict over that country’s nuclear weapons program.

Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, a member of the Armed Services Committee, made the comment at the Munich Security Conference in response to a question from a Chinese government delegate, who asked whether there was support in Congress to engage in a dialogue with the rogue regime.

A week ago, Vice President Mike Pence first opened the prospect for some form of bilateral engagement all the while continuing the international community’s sanctions in an interview with the Washington Post.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence was quoted as saying in the newspaper’s Feb. 11 report. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

Turner today renewed Washington’s call that China must take a leading role in making the regime of Kim Jong Un abandon its nuclear program. Without Beijing, he argued, there would be no resolution to the conflict.

Fu Ying, chairwoman of the committee on foreign affairs of China’s National People’s Congress, told a panel of U.S. lawmakers that the United States was overestimating Beijing’s clout with North Korea.

“I have to disappoint you that China does not have the magic tool,” Fu said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have waited for North Korea to have six nuclear tests.”

She argued that the United States must make the first move and open an avenue of conversation with Pyongyang.

China is North Korea’s most important trading partner. Many in Washington’s policy scene believe that the relationship is effectively keeping the North Korean regime alive.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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