US ready to ‘reach out’ to North Korea
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In Japan for the final stop of his Asian tour, US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday raised the possibility of holding fresh talks with North Korea but only if the country take steps towards giving up its nuclear programme.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday stressed the United States is willing to engage with North Korea as long as it takes steps to give up nuclear weapons.
He also stressed that the US would protect its Asian allies against any provocative acts by Pyongyang.
Kerry made his comments in Japan on the penultimate day of a tour of Asia which has also seen the diplomat visit Seoul and Beijing.
“We are prepared to reach out but we need (the) appropriate moment, appropriate circumstance,” Kerry said, adding that North Korea had to take steps towards giving up its nuclear programmes.
“They have to take some actions. Now how many and how much I want to have a discussion with folks back in Washington (about)... but they have to take action,” Kerry told a small group of reporters.
The North has threatened for weeks to attack the United States, South Korea and Japan since new UN sanctions were imposed in response to its latest nuclear arms test in February. Speculation has mounted of a new missile launch or nuclear test.
“I think it is really unfortunate that there has been so much focus and attention in the media and elsewhere on the subject of war, when what we really ought to be talking about is the possibility of peace. And I think there are those possibilities,” Kerry earlier told a news conference in Tokyo after a meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida.
US ready to defend its allies
Kerry said the United States would “do what was necessary” to defend its allies Japan and South Korea, but added: “Our choice is to negotiate, our choice is to move to the table and find a way for the region to have peace.”
Kerry also sought to clarify his comments made in Beijing on Saturday, which some took to suggest he might be offering to remove recently boosted missile defence capabilities in Asia if China persuaded North Korea to abandon its atomic programmes.
The Pentagon in recent weeks has announced plans to position two Aegis guided-missile destroyers in the western Pacific and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile defence system to Guam. “The president of the United States deployed some additional missile defense capacity precisely because of the threat of North Korea. And it is logical that if the threat of North Korea disappears because the peninsula denuclearises, then obviously that threat no longer mandates that kind of posture. But there have been no agreements, no discussions, there is nothing actually on the table with respect to that,” Kerry said.
Japan’s Kishida told the same news conference that the two allies want Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
“We agreed that North Korea should cease provocative speech and behaviour and show it is taking concrete action toward denuclearisation,” he said. “We cannot allow North Korea in any way to possess nuclear weapons.”
North Korea unwilling to back down
Pyongyang, which was preparing to celebrate the birth date of state founder Kim Il-Sung on Monday, reiterated it had no intention of abandoning its atomic arms programmes.
“We will expand in quantity our nuclear weapons capability, which is the treasure of a unified Korea ... that we would never barter at any price,” Kim Young-nam, North Korea’s titular head of state, told a gathering of officials and service personnel applauding Kim Il-Sung.
The KCNA news agency also rejected as a “cunning trick” South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s suggestion last week of holding talks with the North.
Kerry's arrival in Japan followed an intense day of diplomacy Saturday in Beijing, during which the US and China pledged to make a joint effort to encourage Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons programme.
Kerry and China's top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, said both countries supported the goal of denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
"We are able, the United States and China, to underscore our joint commitment to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner," Kerry told reporters, standing next to Yang at a state guesthouse in western Beijing.
"We agreed that this is critically important for the stability of the region and indeed for the world and for all of our non-proliferation efforts."
China is Pyongyang's sole major ally and backer, and is widely seen as the only country with leverage to influence its actions - although it is also reluctant to risk destabilising the regime.
"The importance of the visit yesterday really cannot be overstated," Kerry told US embassy staff in Beijing on Sunday ahead of his departure for Tokyo.
Kerry’s is due to hold further talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday before calling an end to his whirlwind visit to Asia in the afternoon.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)