United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has indicated that India's diplomatic connections with North Korea could act as a "consuit for communications" with Pyongyang. The top US official made the statement at a time when tensions between United States and North Korea are at an all-time high over the latter's continuing nuclear and missile tests.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, during a meeting with Tillerson in New Delhi on Wednesday, had said that India has "minimal" trade with North Korea, and that there was a small Indian embassy in Pyongyang which should remain there so that some form of channels of communications continue to be open between the countries.

Tillerson, while answering a question on India's refusal to close its embassy in Pyongyang, said:  "I think they just indicated they think that office has a value as a conduit for communications".

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Rex Tillerson

When he was asked whether he agreed with India's assessment of the situation, Tillerson replied with: "It could. It might", according to the transcription of Tillerson's interview in Geneva.

According to official data, trade between India and North Korea amounted to nearly $130 million in 2016-17, however in the current fiscal year the amount stands at mere $10.95 million.

After the United Nations' fresh sanctions over North Korea's latest nuclear tests, India ceased all trade with North Korea, except food and medicine, from April.

Talking about his meeting with the Indian leaders, Tillerson said that the United States is looking for new ways to partner with like-minded countries in Asia, including India.

"I had a very comprehensive discussion on economic and security links with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi, National Security Advisor (Ajit) Doval, and Foreign Affairs Minister (Sushma) Swaraj. It is essential that our two democracies work together to address the challenges facing our people," Tillerson said.

Rex Tillerson Sushma Swaraj
Rex Tillerson with Sushma SwarajTwitter/ Raveesh Kumar

"The US has had positive relations with India for 70 years but it is never quite moved to that next level, and I think that is in part due to - on both sides," the US Secretary of State added.

Tensions between the US and North Korea have escalated as the leaders of the two countries have been locked in a bitter war of words over Pyongyang's ambitious nuclear programme.

The situation worsened when Trump, during his first address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), vowed to annihilate North Korea if it posed any threat to the US and its allies.

North Korea recently launched two ballistic missiles over Japan and conducted its sixth and the most powerful nuclear test last month. The nation aims to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland.