North Korea says nuclear and ballistic missile tests not up for negotiation despite Asia-Pacific ministers’ ‘grave concern’
The Asean Regional Forum in Manila gave diplomats their first opportunity to discuss concerns since the second ICBM test
Asia-Pacific foreign ministers made plain to North Korea on Monday it is time that it stop taking actions posing threats to regional peace.
But North Korea’s foreign minister, who attended an annual security meeting in Manila with them, staunchly defended his country’s missile nuclear programme as legitimate and self-defensive in nature.
“We will, under no circumstances, put the nuclear and ballistic missiles on the negotiating table...unless the hostile policy and the nuclear threat of the United States against (the North) are fundamentally eliminated,” a North Korean official accompanying Ri Yong-ho quoted him as telling his counterparts in the closed-door meeting.
This year’s Asean Regional Forum in Manila gave the ministers their first opportunity to discuss concerns about North Korea in person since it carried out its second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile about a week ago, following the first on July 4.
The meeting of the 27-member security forum is one of the very few multilateral events attended regularly by North Korea, which has been trying to develop a nuclear-tipped missile able to reach the US mainland, despite a series of UN sanctions.
The members of the forum include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United States – all major players involved in global efforts to halt North Korea’s weapons programme, as well as the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which have diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.
Almost all the top diplomats touched on the North Korean issue and demanded the country abide by UN Security Council resolutions banning it from testing ballistic missile and nuclear technologies, according to a Japanese diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
While the international community has long failed to devise a means of reining in North Korea, Pyongyang has rapidly upgraded its arms capabilities, with its second ICBM launched on July 28 and flying as high as about 3,700 km before it landed in the sea near Japan.
That was the highest altitude ever reached by a North Korean missile. Weapons analysts have said that if fired at a normal trajectory, it would have major US cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago within its range.
Sitting at the same roundtable together with his counterparts, Ri faced strong criticism from some of them over the country’s arms tests in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
A copy of a chairman’s draft, seen by Kyodo News, said they were prepared to express “grave concern” and urge North Korea to immediately comply with its international obligations and exercise self-restraint for peace and stability in the world.
But Ri did not say anything strikingly different from what North Korea has been saying regarding its nuclear missile programme.
The draft also showed what North Korea was planning to claim during the one-day meeting, namely that its nuclear programme is “an act of self-defence against a hostile policy towards it”.
Despite tougher sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council over the weekend, Ri, a top nuclear negotiator of North Korea before becoming foreign minister last year, dismissed the chorus of voices calling for Pyongyang to change course.
While North Korea dominated this year’s discussions of the forum, as always, many of the top diplomats put forward their respective views on how best to defuse tensions and address territorial disputes in the South China Sea.