South Korea, the United States and Japan held high-level talks on Tuesday, as concerns escalated over North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile ambitions. Tensions have heightened over North Korea’s threats to conduct another nuclear test and fire ballistic rockets capable of carrying nuclear warheads as far as the US.
UN security sanctions were passed in early March following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test on January 6, followed by the launch on February 7 of a satellite-bearing rocket that the world viewed as a disguised ballistic missile test. However, in defiance of the sanctions imposed last month on the regime, North Korea has continued to launch missiles and projectiles, the latest being its failed launch of a Musudan medium-range projectile on Friday.
On Tuesday, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki in Seoul. The trilateral consultations were first held in Washington in April last year and again in Tokyo in January. The discussion included the implementation of the U.N. sanctions as well as each country’s unilateral sanctions against the North and what they intended to do in response to Kim Jong-un’s continued provocations.
“We agreed not to tolerate North Korea’s additional provocations,” South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam told reporters after the talks. The senior diplomats from Japan, South Korea and the United States sent out a strong warning to North Korea on Tuesday against making further provocations.
“North Korea will come under much stronger sanctions by the international community and deep isolation if it ignores repeated warnings and makes provocations,” Lim said at the joint news conference.
“It’s also true if North Korea undertakes additional provocations, the existing Security Council resolution calls for additional significant measures,” Blinken said.
Saiki said the three countries need to cooperate closely in fully implementing the latest U.N. Security Council resolution adopted to punish North Korea for its fourth nuclear test in January and the launch of a rocket using banned ballistic missile technology in February. Saiki added that the roles of China and Russia are also important to implementing the resolution.
On Monday, South Korea had expressed fears that North Korea was preparing to conduct a fifth nuclear test. President Park Geun-hye ordered the military to be ready to sternly retaliate should North Korea stage another provocative action.
Numerous analysts have suggested that the North might indeed carry out such a test as a display of defiance and strength just before a rare and much-hyped ruling party congress early next month, at which leader Kim Jong-un is expected to take credit for pushing the country’s nuclear weapons programme to new heights.
US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States will respond strongly in the case of a further North Korean nuclear test. Blinken, who met senior Japanese government officials in Tokyo, told reporters North Korea would be digging deeper into a hole if it pursued further provocations.
“It is uncertain what kind of unexpected provocations it would stage,” Park said at a cabinet meeting. The South Korean Defence Ministry said it was alert to the likelihood of a fifth test.
“Given current activities, we believe that there is a possibility that the North may stage an underground nuclear test, and are monitoring the situation accordingly,” ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told the reporters. North Korea had declared last month that it has made substantial progress in making nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles. It also claimed to have acquired the capability to ensure a nuclear warhead’s re-entry into the atmosphere.
South Korea’s defense ministry also said it is closely watching movements in the North amid increased activities at the country’s main nuclear test site in Punggye-ri.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking through an interpreter, has also warned the international community calling North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities ‘a direct and grave threat not only to the three countries, but to the global community’.
Earlier, on the sidelines of a global nuclear security summit in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama had hosted South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The three leaders vowed to uphold the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous agreement to dramatically tighten sanctions on North Korea, aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions.
“Korea, the U.S. and Japan have agreed to coordinate closely not only in enforcing the Security Council resolution, but in implementing our respective individual sanctions on North Korea, all the while further enhancing our solidarity with the international community to make sure that the international community effectively steps up its pressure on North Korea,” South Korea President said.
In an effort to rope in China whose influence on North Korea as an ally could advance the aim, Obama met later on Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China also agreed to implement in full the latest economic restrictions imposed by the U.N. Security Council against Pyongyang.