America's top diplomat, at the start of a four-day trip to Asia, is warning North Korea it will face further consequences should it test-fire a new missile.
After meetings with South Korea's president and foreign minister, Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear that both North Korea's bellicose rhetoric and its hopes of becoming a nuclear power are unacceptable.
Kerry, on his first visit to Seoul, warned North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong Un, not to proceed with an anticipated launch of a medium-range ballistic missile.
“It is a huge mistake for him to choose to do that because it will further isolate his country and further isolate his people who frankly are desperate for food, not missile launches,” Kerry warned.
Kerry's next stop is Beijing. And while in Seoul he emphasized the Chinese government must “put some teeth” into ensuring North Korean denuclearization.
“China has an enormous ability to help make a difference here," he noted. "And I hope that in our conversations when I get there tomorrow we'll be able to lay out a path ahead that can defuse this tension, that can allow the people of the North and the South and other people in the world to recognize that people are moving this in the right direction which is towards negotiations and towards a reduction in the current level of tension.”
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Standing alongside Kerry, the South Korean Foreign Minister, Yun Byung-se, characterized Pyongyang's threats as a “grave provocation” to the entire international community.
Both officials agreed the door remains open for dialog if North Korea makes good on the various international agreements it has broken concerning development of weapons of mass destruction.
South Korea's semi-official Yonhap news agency quotes President Park Geun-hye as telling ruling party officials Friday there should be such a South-North meeting to “listen to what North Korea thinks.”
North Korea, after conducting a missile launch and nuclear test in the past few months, has in short order unleashed a string of threats against Seoul and Washington. These have included renouncing the 1953 cease-fire which halted the Korean War, threatening to launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the United States and declaring a state of war in effect between the North and South.
Pyongyang this week also pulled its 53,000 workers from the only remaining joint venture with the South, the Kaesong factory complex.
As Kerry was meeting top leaders in Seoul, the latest invective from Pyongyang warned Tokyo it would be “consumed in nuclear flames” should the Japanese shoot down any North Korean missile.
Kerry will wrap up his Asian trip in Tokyo.
Another U.S. official in Seoul, speaking on condition he not be named, said if North Korea launches a missile there will likely be “little or no warning.” Asked by a reporter if he sensed war was imminent, he
replied “not at all”, explaining there are no signs of North Korean troop movements to back up Pyongyang's frequent characterization that the peninsula is on the brink of war.
NATO chief visit
The trip to Seoul by the top American diplomat also coincided with an unprecedented visit to South Korea by a NATO secretary general.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters he came to South Korea to demonstrate the international community's united stance and firm message to the North that a peaceful solution can come through dialog.
“We don’t know much about what is real intention of North Korean leadership, but we do know from the past and we do know from what has actually happened, that North Korea has the capacity to launch missiles. They have done nuclear tests and that’s enough to express grave concern.”
The visits by Kerry and Rasmussen came amid a disclosure in Washington of an excerpt from a classified U.S. intelligence report contending North Korea is now capable of arming a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. But officials at the Pentagon and the intelligence community quickly downplayed the analysis of the Defense Intelligence Agency. They say it would be inaccurate to suggest Pyongyang has fully tested or demonstrated the full range of capabilities needed to deploy a nuclear armed missile.