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North Korea nuclear crisis

Donald Trump urges Xi Jinping to denuclearise North Korea, calls for more sanctions after latest ICBM test

The US president insisted in a Twitter post that the situation would be ‘handled’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 11:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 6:50am

US President Donald Trump spoke with President Xi Jinping, urging his Chinese counterpart to step up efforts to restrain North Korea and calling for additional sanctions after Pyongyang tested a missile that could send a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.

“President Trump underscored the determination of the United States to defend ourselves and our allies from the growing threat posed by the North Korean regime,” the White House said in an announcement.

Trump “emphasised the need for China to use all available levers to convince North Korea to end its provocations and return to the path of denuclearisation”.

Xi told Trump that denuclearising the Korean peninsula, maintaining an international nuclear-non-proliferation regime, and preserving peace and stability in Northeast Asia are China’s unswerving goal, according to the mainland’s state media.

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Xi said China would like to maintain communications with the US and all other affected parties and jointly push the nuclear issue in a peaceful direction that leads to settlement through dialogue and negotiation, the Xinhua report said.

Pyongyang’s test of the missile, which flew higher and longer than any other fired by its military, ended a 10-week break in the North’s launches.

Trump took to Twitter after the call, insisting the situation would be “handled”.

Communication between the US and North Korea’s traditional ally underscores the concern sparked by the latest missile launch and a loss of hope that the hiatus in such tests might have signalled a willingness on Pyongyang’s part to come to the negotiating table.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said soon after the launch that the missile “went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken, a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world”.

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“Clearly rapid progress is being made” by North Korea’s nuclear weapons development team, Winston Lord, a former US ambassador to China and former director of State Department policy planning, said in an email exchange with the South China Morning Post.

“The test suggests the recent two-month hiatus was due to technological preparations, not any lull for diplomatic reasons. I see no real prospects for, nor utility in, a near-term dialogue with North Korea.”

Trump’s discussion with Xi followed similar phone calls by the US president to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in. The White House statement had no details about Xi’s response.

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All theories about the meaning of the launch hiatus, including speculation that Trump’s threats to attack North Korea were effective, “were undercut by yesterday’s launch”, Bruce Klingner, the Washington-based Heritage Foundation’s Senior Fellow for Northeast Asia and former CIA officer, told the Post.

“The most likely reason for the missile launch hiatus was cyclical,” Klingner said.

North Korea usually launches fewer missiles in the fourth quarter, possibly due to “weather conditions, the necessity of using the military for harvesting crops, and/or the initiation of the annual winter training cycle”, he said.

“As such, expect an uptick in launches early in 2018, including a long-range ICBM test over Japan into the Pacific Ocean.”

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North Korea’s missile reached an altitude of around 4,475km and flew 950km during its 53-minute flight, and landed within Japan’s maritime Economic Exclusion Zone.

The Hwasong-15 was a more advanced version of a missile tested twice in July, North Korea said. It was designed to carry a “super-large heavy warhead”.

The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said the missile would have a range of more than 13,000km, meaning it could reach Washington and the rest of the United States.

Last week, Trump re-instated North Korea on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, after former president George W. Bush removed Pyongyang from the list in 2008, paving the way for Washington to impose more sanctions on North Korea.

North Korean nuclear and missile tests in 2017

The UN Security Council is expected to meet later on Wednesday, New York time (Thursday morning, Hong Kong time) to discuss the missile test, which UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned.

France’s UN Ambassador Francois Delattre, speaking to reporters ahead of the emergency meeting, signalled that members of the council want to take a hard line.

North Korea’s missile launch “is another confirmation that the North Korean threat has changed dramatically in the past few months both in scope and scale”, Delattre said.

“The threat has shifted from being regional to global, from being potential to being immediate. What is at stake is the very future of the non-proliferation regime,” he said. “This regime, after decades of construction, is being challenged.

“We favour tightening the sanctions with additional measures and we’re ready to work without any delay along these lines with our partners,” Delattre said. “Only maximum pressure on North Korea today can pave the way to a political solution tomorrow.”