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Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is in talks with North Korea. Cliff Owen / AP

Sec. of State Rex Tillerson said today that the U.S. has "three channels open to Pyongyang," confirming for the first time that the Trump administration is in direct talks with North Korea, NYT reports. The channels allow the admin and the North Korean regime to talk about nuclear and missile tests, and, some hope, avoid a war between the two countries.

Key quote: "We ask, 'Would you like to talk?' We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we're not in a dark situation, a blackout," Tillerson said. "We can talk to them. We do talk to them. Directly."

This is similar to the Obama administration's communication with Iran, but Tillerson argued, "We are not going to put together a nuclear deal in North Korea that is as flimsy as the one in Iran." The goal, he said, is to decrease the tension between North Korea and the U.S. and lower the likelihood of threats from the DPRK.

"I think everyone would like for it to calm down," Tillerson said of both Kim Jong-un's and Trump's back-and-forth threats.

Go deeper: Trump and Kim Jong-un are in a war of words.

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
2 hours ago - Health

Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has picked former FDA chief David Kessler to lead Operation Warp Speed, a day after unveiling a nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief plan that includes $400 billion for directly combatting the virus.

Why it matters: Biden's transition team said Kessler has been advising the president-elect since the beginning of the pandemic, and hopes his involvement will help accelerate vaccination, the New York Times reports. Operation Warp Speed's current director, Moncef Slaoui, will stay on as a consultant.

The case of the missing relief money

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A chunk of stimulus payments is missing in action, thanks to a mix up that put as many as 13 million checks into invalid bank accounts.

Why it matters: The IRS (by law) was supposed to get all payments out by Friday. Now the onus could shift to Americans to claim the money on their tax refund — further delaying relief to struggling, lower-income Americans.

The post-Trump GOP, gutted

McConnell (L), McCarthy (R) and Trump. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Republicans will emerge from the Trump era gutted financially, institutionally and structurally.

The big picture: The losses are stark and substantial.