Tillerson was responding to a question at a news conference in Beijing about whether the North Koreans actually want to talk before completing their weapons development program
"We are probing, so stay tuned," Tillerson replied. "We ask, 'Would you like to talk?' We have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We're not in a dark situation or a blackout. We have a couple of direct channels to Pyongyang. We can talk to them. We do talk to them. Directly, through our own channels."
Tillerson also said the administration's goal with respect to North Korea is peace and stability.
"We've made it clear that we hope to resolve this through talks," he said, emphasizing the principal objective "is a peaceful resolution."
"I think the most immediate action that we need is to calm things down," Tillerson added. "They're a little overheated right now, and I think we need to calm them down first."
Asked if that included toning down President Donald Trump's fiery rhetoric
, Tillerson said: "I think the whole situation is a bit overheated right now. I think everyone would like for it to calm down."
"Obviously, it would help if North Korea would stop firing off missiles," he said. "That would calm things down a lot."
Tillerson was in Beijing for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to discuss North Korea and other issues, as well as to lay the groundwork for Trump's planned visit to China in early November.
In a statement Saturday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert elaborated on Tillerson's remarks, saying Pyongyang has not signaled an interest in denuclearization talks.
"U.S. diplomats have several open channels in which we can communicate with officials within the North Korean regime," Nauert said. "Despite assurances that the United States is not interested in promoting the collapse of the current regime, pursuing regime change, accelerating reunification of the peninsula or mobilizing forces north of the DMZ, North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization."