U.S., Japan and South Korea Vow United Stance on North Korea Threats

By Paul Eckert
korea-trilateral-03312016.jpg US President Barack Obama (C) speaks during a trilateral meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) and South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, March 31, 2016.

UPDATED at 9:30 A.M. EST on 2016-04-01

U.S. President Barack Obama hosted South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for talks on Thursday in which the three leaders vowed to work together to deal with threats posed by North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile tests.

“Trilateral security cooperation is essential to maintaining peace and stability in Northeast Asia, deterring the North Korean nuclear threat and the potential of nuclear proliferation as a consequence of North Korean activities,” Obama said in a statement after the meeting on the sidelines of a global nuclear security summit in Washington.

“We've directed our teams to work diligently in the coming weeks and months to elaborate additional steps that we can take collectively in order to ensure that we have a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and that we can restore a sense of stability and peace to the region,” he added.

U.S. aims with its treaty allies in Seoul and Tokyo also included “promoting the kind of opportunities and prosperity for the North Korean people who have been suffering so severely because of human rights abuses in North Korea.”

South Korea’s Park said she, Obama and Abe held “in-depth discussions on what our three countries should do together in order to stop North Korea from upgrading its nuclear capabilities and alter its misguided calculus.”

Park said the three countries vowed to uphold the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous agreement to dramatically tighten sanctions on North Korea, aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s ability to build up its nuclear and rocket programs and its leaders’ ability to import luxury items like expensive watches and fancy snowmobiles.

The sanctions were passed in early March after weeks of debate in New York, following North Korea 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.

“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,” she said, according to a transcript released by the White House.

Park, who has been vilified and threatened almost daily in North Korea’s state-run media, also raised the issue of human rights in the North.

“Given how the North Korean human rights issue pertains to the universal values of humanity and is integral to whether all people on the Korean Peninsula can enjoy decent lives as human beings, we also agreed to bolster our efforts to improve human rights in North Korea,” she said.

Abe, speaking through an interpreter, called North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities “a direct and grave threat not only to the three countries, but to the global community.”

'Cavalier, near-contemptuous' Kim

Obama met later on Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, amid hopes his whose government, an ally of North Korea, can bring its influence to bear on Pyongyang and its reclusive leader, Kim Jong Un.

China also agreed to implement in full the latest economic restrictions imposed by the U.N. Security Council against Pyongyang.

"Of great importance to both of us is North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons, which threatens the security and stability of the region. President Xi and I are both committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," the Associated Press quoted  Obama as saying at the start of his meeting with Xi.

"China and the U.S. have a responsibility to work together," Xi said in his comments made to reporters through an interpreter, the AP reported.

Many U.S. analysts remain skeptical over whether Beijing has the will to fully enforce U.N. sanctions on North Korea, because Chinese enforcement of the lengthening list of international restrictions imposed since Pyongyang’s first nuclear test in 2006 has been patchy.

But security expert Jonathan D. Pollack, a senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center and the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, asserted in an essay released this week that “China’s estrangement from North Korea continues to fester and deepen.”

Pollack wrote that “For the first time, China has begun to fully acknowledge that North Korean actions pose a direct threat to vital Chinese security interests, and that Beijing is no longer prepared to rationalize or ignore the threat.”

The Brookings scholar cited strains in Xi’s ties with Park as one element that has caused Beijing to reconsider its traditional passive stance during a decade of North Korean saber rattling and routine defiance of U.N. resolutions.

“But the driving factor is that China is no longer prepared to tolerate the cavalier, near-contemptuous attitude of Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s impetuous young leader, toward his principal source of economic support,” Pollack wrote.

But security expert Jonathan D. Pollack, a senior fellow in the John L. Thorton China Center and the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, asserted in an essay released this week that “China’s estrangement from North Korea continues to fester and deepen.”


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