Tillerson says North Korea need not fear US, calls for new approach to peace
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on North Korea Thursday to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, saying the isolated nation “need not fear” the United States.
Tillerson made that declaration after meeting his Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, where they discussed possible new approaches in dealing with Pyongyang.
He said 20 years of US diplomatic and other efforts to get North Korea to denuclearise have failed, but gave no specifics about how the Trump administration, which is currently doing a policy review, would tackle the issue.
Tillerson described the weapons programmes as “dangerous and unlawful”.
The former Exxon Mobil CEO is making his first trip to Asia as the top US diplomat. Tensions are running high on the divided Korean Peninsula, and North Korea last week launched four missiles into seas off Japan and where the US is currently conducting annual military drills with South Korea. Pyongyang views this as a rehearsal for invasion.
“North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbours in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea,” the secretary of state told a news conference in Tokyo.
“With this in mind, the United States calls on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and refrain from any further provocation.”
He met also with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Citing recent North Korean missile launches, Tillerson said that “in the face of this ever-escalating threat it is clear that a different approach is required.”
He said his trip was intended to get input from other governments. Tillerson will travel Friday to South Korea and then China on Saturday.
Both Tillerson and Kishida urged China use its economic leverage with North Korea to push it to change course.
But a North Korean diplomat suggested that a recent proposal put forward by China was meaningless.
In a rare press conference organised by the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, the diplomat defended the country’s nuclear development programme and criticised the United States for conducting massive military exercises again this year with South Korea.
“Our stance to strengthen national defence with the nuclear force as its pivot and a pre-emptive strike capability has been proven to be right,” Pak Myong-ho, minister at the embassy, said.
“The United States scrapping its hostile policy toward (North) Korea is a precondition to settle all issues.”
The remarks came after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed last week that North Korea suspend its nuclear and missile development activities in exchange for the United States discontinuing its annual military drills with South Korea.
Beijing is publicly more concerned about Washington’s decision to deploy the THAAD missile defence programme in South Korea.
Washington insists THAAD is a defensive system deployed to protect the South and US bases, but China fears its advanced radar system undermines China’s nuclear deterrent.
Watch: US deploys THAAD missile system to South Korea
This week, the navies of South Korea, Japan and United States conducted missile defence information-sharing drills in the region.
China’s assertiveness in the East China Sea, where it has a territorial row with Japan, and the South China Sea, where it has disputes with the Philippines and several other Southeast Asian nations, will also be on the agenda during Tillerson’s visit as will trade.
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Kyodo