Posts Tagged ‘nuclear weapons’

S. Korean, US forces hold drill for removing North Korea’s WMDs

December 17, 2017

By Yonhap
Published : Dec 17, 2017 – 13:23 Updated : Dec 17, 2017 – 13:23

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South Korean and US forces conducted a joint training last week for infiltrating North Korea and removing weapons of mass destruction in case of conflict, military sources said.

The “Warrior Strike” exercise was held at Camp Stanley, located north of Seoul, and other places from Tuesday to Friday, involving hundreds of soldiers from the two sides, they said.

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Gen. Jung Kyung-doo (Yonhap)

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Why Saudi Arabia cannot go to war with Iran

December 17, 2017

Despite all the political hype and media fanfare about the growing Iranian threat in the region, Saudi Arabia has virtually been left on its own to deal with Tehran

In a show of diplomatic force to mobilise international pressure against Iran, Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the United Nations, on Thursday displayed recovered debris of a Burkan 2-H ballistic missile that Iran-backed Houthi rebels fired at the King Khaled Airport in Riyadh on 4 November. The presentation was made at Bolling Air Force base in Washington, which is the headquarters of the US Defence Intelligence Agency.

“In this warehouse is concrete evidence of illegal Iranian weapons proliferation gathered from direct military attacks on our partners in the region,” she said, calling for the formation of a global “coalition” to counter the Islamic Republic.

Haley added: “We will continue to build the international community’s support to say this is not about the nuclear deal. This is about all other actions and the president will work with Congress on how we go forward in dealing with Iran in this way.”

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Saudi Arabia immediately welcomed Haley’s comments, urging the international community to “hold the Iranian regime accountable for its hostile actions,” according to state news agency SPA.

This was the latest instance of how escalating tensions between Tehran and Riyadh have unfolded on the world stage.

A military confrontation?

The geopolitical rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is nothing new. Even before the 1979 revolution, which saw the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Iran under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi has been largely viewed in the Arab world as a regional rival except that, back then, Iran had robust relations with the United States and Israel.

After the Islamic revolution, led by late Ayatollah Khomeini, however, the Arab-Iranian rivalry acquired strong ideological proportions and was increasingly defined along sectarian lines.

This geopolitical and ideological struggle for power and influence in the Middle East has continued to date in varying forms and degrees.

Today, tensions between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia have reached an unprecedented high.

When the Islamic State (IS) launched a deadly terror attack in Tehran on 7 June, it was Saudi Arabia and its intelligence services that Iranian leaders immediately blamed for the atrocity.

In retaliation, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ missile launch against IS positions in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor on 18 June was above all a warning to Riyadh. On the other side, when the Iran-backed Yemeni Ansar Allah group (the Houthis) fired a ballistic missile at Saudi capital Riyadh on 4 November, it was Tehran that was quickly singled out for the assault.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman went as far as describing it as “an act of war” and accusing Iran of “direct military aggression” against the Kingdom. While the risks of this regional standoff spiraling out of control are considerable, Saudi Arabia can ill-afford a military confrontation with Iran at the present juncture.

There are structural factors of psychological nature that drive Saudi Arabia’s aggressive foreign policy in the first place

For good or bad, there is no escaping the fact that Iran has put together a robust network of proxy groups in the region over the past decade that arguably serves as a reliable pillar of deterrence for it and can be utilised to its advantage in the event of conflict.

Shortly following the Houthi’s ballistic missile attack on Riyadh, Deputy Commander of Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Hossein Salami pointed out in a televised address that the Houthis had the capability to rain down multiple missiles on Saudi territory at the same time.

Photo: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani walks past a portrait of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as he arrives to give a speech during a press conference in the capital Tehran on 29 August, 2015 (AFP)

According to him, “Yemenis have lots of missiles but with some consideration refrained from mass-firing them at Saudi Arabia. However, the circumstances might unfold in ways that would make them use their weapons.”

This was a veiled, yet stark, threat that if the Saudis or their allies resorted to the use of force against Iran, the Houthi arsenal of missiles, be they produced by Yemenis themselves or provided by their Iranian backers, could be unleashed on the Saudi heartland.

Reckless leadership

The very fact that the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen is far from achieving its declared objectives – defeating Houthis and restoring Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to power – despite almost three years of unrelenting operations is another obstacle standing in the way of a Saudi war with Iran.

Indeed, operations “Decisive Storm” and “Restoring Hope,” which officially constitute Riyadh’s Yemen campaign, have bogged the Saudis down in a costly and attritional civil war without bearing much fruit or attaining any big victory for the intervening coalition.

Also, in the event of a major conflagration involving the two regional rivals, Iran will not hesitate to deploy its ballistic missiles against key Saudi targets on the other side of the Persian Gulf including perhaps Saudi petroleum production and export infrastructure.

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Will Saudi Arabia take the battle to Iran-with America’s blessing?

This would undoubtedly affect the global oil supply in a dramatic fashion and send a shockwave through international energy markets.

Though Riyadh is well equipped to intercept Iranian missiles with advanced defense capabilities provided by the United States, Revolutionary Guards commanders seem to believe that US-made air defense systems can hardly tackle overwhelming barrages of multiple missiles.

Apart from the rash and reckless style of leadership personally exercised by Crown Prince bin Salman, there are structural factors of psychological nature that drive Saudi Arabia’s aggressive foreign policy in the first place.

An inferiority complex

In the face of a rising Iran, ironically empowered by the 2015 nuclear deal that saw the restriction of its nuclear programme, Riyadh seems to be suffering from a sense of inferiority, which it tries to cope with through a series of passive-aggressive reactions.

Apart from the rash and reckless style of leadership personally exercised by Crown Prince bin Salman, there are structural factors of psychological nature that drive Saudi Arabia’s aggressive foreign policy in the first place (AFP)

The abortive military intervention in Yemen that theSaudis initiated in early 2015, that is, in the thick of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the world powers, is one case in point.

The counter-productive blockade of Qatar, and, most recently, the forced but ultimately failed resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, are other instances of this short-sighted foreign policy, aimed primarily at hurting Saudi Arabia’s arch rival at any cost.

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It is complicated: Why Iran and Saudi Arabia do not get along

Finally, Saudi Arabia cannot fight a winning war with Iran because its powerful regional and Western allies, particularly Israel and the United States, are not willing to make major sacrifices on its behalf as long as their own strategic interests are not directly imperiled.

The suspicious resignation of Hariri, which he declared from Riyadh but later suspended upon arrival in Lebanon, was interpreted by many as a desperate Saudi attempt to undermine the Islamic Republic by provoking Israel into military confrontation with Hezbollah, Iran’s chief regional ally.

Despite all the political hype and media fanfare about the growing Iranian threat in the region, Saudi Arabia has virtually been left on its own to deal with Tehran.

Which brings us to the sole plausible solution to Saudi-Iranian woes, and that is diplomacy.

Unless and until diplomacy is pursued in a mutual and meaningful manner and diplomatic means are fully exhausted, none of the crises that have arisen as a consequence of Iranian advances and Saudi reactions in the Middle East will be resolved once and for all.

Indeed, both rival powers need to realise that neither can single-handedly rule the region and guarantee regional security and stability at the expense or exclusion of the other.

– Maysam Behravesh is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science and a Research Fellow in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), Lund University. He was a senior editor of the Wiley-published journal Asian Politics & Policy and editorial assistant of the Sage-published quarterly Cooperation and Conflict. Maysam is also a regular contributor to Persian-language media outlets including BBC Persian.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/why-saudi-arabia-cannot-go-war-iran-9549775

Tillerson at UN Security Council: ‘North Korea must earn its way back to the table’ — ‘China is helping. Russia is not helping’

December 15, 2017
Carole LANDRY

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AFP
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said North Korea must “earn its way back to the table” (AFP Photo/EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) – North Korea must “earn its way back” to the negotiating table, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the UN Security Council on Friday, backtracking on an earlier offer of unconditional talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

Tillerson said a “sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin,” though he insisted the lines of communication remain open.

Earlier this week, Tillerson set off speculation that Washington was seeking a diplomatic opening for negotiations with North Korea when he offered to hold “talks with no preconditions.”

The White House however said there was no change in US policy and Tillerson did not repeat the offer at the council meeting.

“North Korea must earn its way back to the table,” he said. “The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved.”

“We will, in the meantime, keep our channels of communication open.”

Tillerson repeated that “we do not seek, nor do we want, war with North Korea.”

“The United States will use all necessary measures to defend itself against North Korean aggression, but our hope remains that diplomacy will produce a resolution.”

– ‘China is helping. Russia is not helping’ –

North Korea’s UN ambassador Ja Song-Nam made a rare appearance at the council meeting chaired by Japan, which announced new targeted sanctions on Chinese entities, among others.

Singling out China, Pyongyang’s sole ally, and Russia, Tillerson urged Beijing and Moscow to take unilateral steps that go beyond the current tough UN sanctions resolutions.

“Continuing to allow North Korean laborers to toil in slave-like conditions inside Russia in exchange for wages used to fund nuclear weapons programs calls into question Russia’s dedication as a partner for peace,” he said.

The United States has called on China to cut off oil supplies to North Korea, a move that would deal a crippling blow to its economy.

In Washington, US President Donald Trump criticized Russia for not doing enough to pressure North Korea to change course.

“China is helping. Russia is not helping. We would like to have Russia’s help,” said Trump, who discussed North Korea by phone with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

– Avoiding catastrophe –

Pyongyang has carried out its sixth nuclear test and conducted a series of missile launches including its first tests of two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) this year.

In his address to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged diplomatic engagement with North Korea and said the United Nations could play a role to promote contacts.

“We must do everything we can to reach that objective — and avoid a level of danger that would be unpredictable in its trajectory and catastrophic in its consequences,” said Guterres.

The UN’s political affairs chief, Jeffrey Feltman, returned at the weekend from talks in Pyongyang — the first visit to the North by a high-ranking UN official since 2011.

While Feltman received no firm commitment from North Korea to open talks, he has said the visit is “just the beginning” of his push for “talks about talks.”

Since late 2016, the council has slapped three rounds of sanctions aimed at choking off revenue to Pyongyang’s weapons program, which the United Nations has described as the most dangerous security issue in the world today.

China and Russia argue that sanctions alone will not compel North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to change course and want to step up diplomatic efforts to achieve a solution.

Tillerson appeared to dismiss concerns that UN sanctions are having an impact on North Korea’s humanitarian crisis, saying Pyongyang “hypocritically spends billions” on its military programs “while its own people suffer great poverty.”

In Tokyo, the government said it had added 19 more entities to its sanctions blacklists including seven from China, one from Singapore and two from Namibia.

“The international community must continue to coordinate and apply pressure until North Korea changes its policies and seeks negotiations,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

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Washington (CNN)  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the UN Security Council on Friday that North Korea must cease all threatening behavior before talks with the US can begin, omitting to mention his earlier offer of talks without preconditions.

Tillerson earlier in the week said he was willing to start talks with Pyongyang without preconditions, appearing to reveal another rift between the State Department and the White House, where staffers said they were caught off guard by his offer.
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“As I said earlier this week, a sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin,” Tillerson told the UN meeting, which was convened to discuss Pyongyang’s denuclearization, adding that “North Korea must earn its way back to the table.”
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The top US diplomat said that the US, “will in the meantime keep our channels of communication open.” And he acknowledged the presence of a high level North Korea representative in the room. “I, too, welcome the attendance of the representative of North Korea so that we have the opportunity to speak directly to their representative as well,” he said.
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But he did not say a line that had appeared in his prepared comments, distributed by the State Department on embargo earlier in the day. Tillerson had been set to say that, “apart from that step, there are no preconditions for talks, nor will we accept pre-conditions from North Korea or others.”
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Asked about the omission, the State Department’s Undersecretary of Public Affairs Steve Goldstein said that, “nobody took that out for him. The Secretary doesn’t speak word for word from prepared remarks and works to deliver the words that will be the most impactful to the audience he is addressing.”
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Tillerson did double down on the administration’s tough talk, even as other countries warned that US rhetoric and actions are part of the problem.
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“We have been clear that all options remain on the table in the defense of our nation, but we do not seek, nor do we want, war with North Korea,” Tillerson said. “The United States will use all necessary measures to defend itself against North Korean aggression, but our hope remains that diplomacy will produce a resolution.”
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But Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya said, “it should be clear to everybody that the DPRK is hardly going to refrain from its nuclear missile program while it feels a direct threat to its security.”
Referring to joint military drills the US conducts with South Korea, Nebenzya said, “indeed this is how Pyongyang evaluates the regular widescale maneuvers and exercises by the United States and its allies in the region.”
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“In the conditions of such tension, one ill thought out or misinterpreted step could lead to lamentable consequences,” the Russian said, warning of a “policy of mutual pressure and intimidation.”
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He challenged Tillerson, questioning the US commitment to finding a peaceful resolution. He noted that after about two months of quiet on North Korea’s part, the US held massive military drills with South Korea and then announced it was placing Pyongyang on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
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“All of these steps force us to wonder about the sincerity of statements that suggest that there is a preference for a peaceful approach to resolving the crisis in DPRK,” Nebenzya said.
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China’s ambassador echoed Russia’s rebukes. “The current situation on the peninsula is not caused by any one party alone and it’s unfair to impose on any one partner the responsibility” for resolving it, said China’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Amb. Wu Haitao. He called for dialogue, an end to US military exercises, and an end to “mutual blaming.”
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Tillerson rejected the argument that the US bore any blame, saying, “there is but one party that has carried out illegal detonation of illegal devices, there is but one party that launches intercontinental ballistic missiles … that is the Kim regime in North Korea.”
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“They alone are responsible for these tensions, they alone must take responsibility for these tensions, and they alone can solve these tensions,” Tillerson said.
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Tillerson made clear that there would be no let-up in his campaign to squeeze North Korea and steadily choke off its diplomatic channels and means of financial support. That campaign, he said, must be given time to succeed.
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“North Korea’s growing capabilities reflect a direct threat to our security and the security of the entire world,” Tillerson said. “We do not regard this claim as an empty threat. In the face of such a threat, inaction is unacceptable for any nation.”
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The US is even more determined to continue its peaceful pressure campaign, Tillerson said, with the goal of “setting the conditions for North Korea to engage in serious negotiations toward the complete, verifiable, and irreversible abandonment of its nuclear weapons programs.”
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China, South Korea Leaders Reset Bilateral Ties

December 15, 2017

Both countries agree they won’t tolerate war on the Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Moon Jae-In and Xi Jinping, China’s president, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In and Xi Jinping, China’s president, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday. PHOTO: NICOLAS ASFOURI, PRESS POOL

The leaders of China and South Korea pledged to work together to counter North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear program, resetting relations that had soured over Seoul’s deployment of an American missile-defense system.

The fence-mending efforts at a Thursday summit in Beijing, however, were marred by a clash between Chinese security guards and South Korean journalists reporting on President Moon Jae-in’s visit, an incident that left two photographers injured.

Mr. Moon’s China trip was meant to accelerate the thaw between the two Asian powers, whose falling-out had hampered coordination of a regional response to Pyongyang’s recent string of nuclear and ballistic-missile tests.

Meeting President Xi Jinping at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Mr. Moon called for a “new start” in bilateral ties, according to South Korea’s semiofficial Yonhap News Agency.

Referring to the recent discord, Mr. Xi said both countries should develop positive ties on the basis of mutual respect for each other’s core interests, according to Chinese state media. Mr. Xi also said he hopes South Korea will continue to deal “appropriately” with the dispute over the missile-defense system.

Messrs. Xi and Moon didn’t hold a joint news briefing or issue a joint statement after their summit—an omission that some observers described as a sign of lingering tensions. But the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment toward a denuclearized Korean peninsula, and they agreed the two nations wouldn’t tolerate a repeat of the 1950-1953 Korean War, according to South Korea’s presidential Blue House.

The U.S. and China are vying for influence in Asia, but tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, as well as President Donald Trump’s focus on prioritizing American interests, have complicated Washington’s agenda. Photo: AP

Bilateral ties had soured in the past year as China called South Korea’s deployment of the missile-defense battery a threat to its national security. Seoul believes Beijing had orchestrated a campaign of economic retaliation, such as shutting down South Korean supermarkets in China, blocking South Korean pop-culture imports and discouraging Chinese travelers from visiting the country.

In October, both sides agreed to set aside the dispute, paving the way for Mr. Moon’s visit—his first to China since taking office in May.

Aiming to repair economic links with South Korea’s top trading partner, Mr. Moon brought some 300 business executives in what Seoul officials say is the largest-ever trade delegation to accompany a South Korean leader abroad. Some South Korean celebrities, including actresses and a boy band, also came along.

The clash between Chinese security guards and South Korean journalists covering Mr. Moon’s tour of a trade fair at a Beijing convention center came just hours before his summit with Mr. Xi.

According to accounts from the Journalists Association of Korea and a reporter at the scene, security guards hired for the event blocked a group of Korean journalists from following Mr. Moon, and assaulted two photographers in that group. One photographer suffered a bloody nose and a swollen eye, while the other was injured in his hip, the association said.

South Korean media footage of the incident showed several men in suits manhandling one of the photographers as others yell for them to stop. One man was shown kicking the photographer, who had fallen to the floor.

A spokesman for the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, which organized the fair, said it hired the guards from a Chinese company that regularly handles security at the convention center. A manager at the venue said he wasn’t aware of the incident and needed to make some queries before commenting.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it has expressed concern to Beijing and called for an investigation. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Chinese authorities are looking into the matter and expressed “hope that it’s only a minor incident.”

Write to Chun Han Wong at chunhan.wong@wsj.com and Andrew Jeong at Jeong

Appeared in the December 15, 2017, print edition as ‘China and South Korea Reset Ties.’

US provides proof of Iran arming Houthis

December 14, 2017

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley briefs the media in front of remains of Iranian “Qiam” ballistic missile provided by Pentagon at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington. (Reuters)
JEDDAH: The US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, on Thursday unveiled declassified evidence that Iran is violating international law by funneling missiles to Houthi militias in Yemen.

The evidence included segments of missiles launched at Saudi Arabia from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen.

Haley said the parts bear markings showing that they originate in Iran, and have technical specifications that are specific to Iranian-manufactured weapons.

She said it was proof of “blatant violations” of UN Security Council resolutions while the international community was “looking the other way” because of the nuclear deal.

The US will “build a coalition to really push back against Iran and what they’re doing,” Haley told a news conference.

Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal said: “The US has long believed that Iran is providing weaponry to proxies and partners and militias throughout the region, and what we have here to show you today is proof.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE had recovered the arms and loaned them to Washington, she added.

The unprecedented presentation by the Pentagon is part of its follow-through on President Donald Trump’s new Iran policy, which promises a far harder line toward Tehran.

Katie Wheelbarger, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said there could be implications of an accumulation of evidence against Iran.

“You could see future sanctions… but the first step is at least to bring awareness and understanding, and to have a similar picture of what we’re looking at,” Wheelbarger was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

The Pentagon offered a detailed explanation of all the reasons why it believed the arms came from Iran, noting Iranian corporate logos on arms fragments and the unique nature of the designs of Iranian weaponry.

That included the designs of short-range Qiam ballistic missiles. The Pentagon said it had obtained fragments of two Qiam missiles, one fired on Nov. 4 and another on July 22.

The Pentagon cited corporate logos of Iranian defense firms on jet vanes that help steer the missile’s engine, and on the circuit board that helps drive its guidance system. It said the missile’s unique valve design is only found in Iran.

Tehran, the Pentagon said, appeared to have tried to cover up the shipment by disassembling the missile for transport, given the crude welding used to stitch it back together.

“The point of this entire display is that only Iran makes this missile. They haven’t given it to anybody else,” Seal said. “We haven’t seen this in the hands of anyone else except Iran and the Houthis.”

Earlier in the day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that Iran may be defying a UN call to halt ballistic missile development.

He said in a report to the Security Council that the UN is investigating Iran’s possible transfer of ballistic missiles to Houthi militias in Yemen that may have been used in launches aimed at Saudi Arabia on July 22 and Nov. 4.

The report on implementation of a UN resolution that endorsed the July 2015 nuclear deal was obtained Wednesday by AP.

In the report, Guterres said the UN is studying debris from missiles fired at Yanbu in Saudi Arabia on July 22 and at Riyadh on Nov. 4, and is reviewing other information.

He said France, Germany, Britain and the US sent a letter saying the Simorgh Space Launch Vehicle that Iran launched on July 27, if configured as a ballistic missile, is “inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

Saudi Arabia welcomed the UN report and US stand on Iran’s weapons supplies to the Houthis.

The Kingdom demanded immediate action to implement UN Security Council resolutions and hold Iran accountable for its actions, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

“Iran’s support for Houthi terrorist militias constitutes a flagrant violation of UN Security Council Resolutions No. 2216 and No. 2231, and has disrupted the political process and prolonged the crisis in Yemen,” said an official statement on the Saudi Press Agency.

“Saudi Arabia calls upon the international community to take immediate action to implement the above-mentioned UN Security Council resolutions and to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its aggressive actions,” the statement said. “Saudi Arabia reiterates the need to tighten the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) to prevent smuggling.”

Gerald Feierstein, former US ambassador to Yemen and director for Gulf affairs and government relations at the Middle East Institute, told Arab News: “The fact that Iran has provided the Houthis with materiel support as well as training and assistance for at least the past five years is well-established.

“But providing the Houthis with the means to threaten major Saudi and perhaps Emirati population centers with missile attacks marks a serious escalation in the Yemen civil war, and reflects the desire of the Houthis and their Iranian patrons to draw Saudi Arabia more deeply into the conflict and regionalize it.”

Feierstein added: “The international community needs to redouble its efforts to prevent the flow of arms and support from Iran to the Houthis in order to bring this conflict to an end.”

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White House Corrects Tillerson on Whether U.S. Will Talk to North Korea — The White House distanced itself from Tillerson’s overture

December 14, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson are once again at odds over how to deal with nuclear-armed North Korea after Mr. Tillerson declared on Tuesday that the United States was ready to open talks with the North “without precondition.”

The secretary’s comments were remarkably conciliatory for an administration that has repeatedly threatened North Korea with military action, and ruled out any negotiations, if it did not curb its missile and nuclear programs. But a few hours later, the White House distanced itself from his overture.

In an unusual statement released to reporters on Tuesday evening, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Mr. Trump’s position on North Korea had not changed — namely, that talks were pointless if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, continued to menace his neighbors.

“North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world,” she said. “North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”

It was only the latest example of a public rift between the president and his chief diplomat over North Korea.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. wants to have a dialogue with North Korea “anytime,” backing away from Washington’s previous demand that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons before they come to the table. Photo: AP

In October, Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to open diplomatic lines to Pyongyang. But this time, the comments follow reports that the White House is laying the groundwork for the secretary’s departure from the State Department and his replacement by Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director.

White House officials were alarmed by Mr. Tillerson’s conciliatory tone, according to several people, because they feared that it would sow confusion among allies after Mr. Trump rallied them behind a policy of “maximum pressure.”

There were no signs that Mr. Tillerson intended to signal a change in policy. He was speaking to the Atlantic Council in what was billed as a wrap-up of foreign-policy challenges in the administration’s first year.

Asked about the prospects for diplomacy with the North, he said, “We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition.”

“Let’s just meet and let’s — we can talk about the weather if you want,” he continued. “We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table, if that’s what you’re excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face?”

To some extent, Mr. Tillerson was merely playing the role he has played throughout the administration’s confrontation with North Korea — the diplomat offering a softer line while Mr. Trump and other White House officials warn about the consequences if North Korea does not back off.

But Mr. Tillerson indicated an urgency about getting to the table with North Korea, which officials said runs counter to the White House’s view that negotiations are unlikely to happen anytime soon, given Mr. Kim’s repeated tests of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.

Read the rest:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/13/world/asia/north-korea-trump-tillerson.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=8&pgtype=sectionfront

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China: South Korean President in China to mend ties strained by North Korean crisis

December 14, 2017

AFP

© Noel Celis, AFP | South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In adjusts his earphones during the 19th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-South Korea Summit on the sidelines of the 31st ASEAN Summit.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-12-14

South Korean President Moon Jae-In will meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing Thursday amid mixed US signals about potential talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Relations between Beijing and Seoul have encountered their own rough patch over the US military’s deployment of a powerful anti-missile defence system in the South to counter the North’s threats.

Moon hopes to “normalise” ties during the visit, his office has said, after Beijing imposed economic measures against South Korean companies, a move seen as retaliation to the installation of the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system.

VIRGINIE MANGIN REPORTS FROM BEIJING

China sees the deployment as a threat to its own security.

Moving past the disagreement has become increasingly important amid growing concern that bellicose rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang could spark war on the Korean peninsula.

“The highlights to watch of the visit would be whether the two sides (Seoul and Beijing) can start a dialogue and cooperation mechanism on the DPRK (North Korea) nuclear issue,” said Zhu Feng, international studies professor at Peking University.

China has long refused to countenance the possibility that the North’s Communist regime could collapse.

But a series of nuclear and missile tests combined with pressure from US President Donald Trump has pushed Beijing to reconsider its position and prioritise improving relations with Seoul.

“It is a very uncertain period,” Zhu said. “The two sides need high-level dialogues and dialogues between militaries. These dialogues cannot really start without the normalisation of the bilateral relations.”

Possible talks?

Moon’s visit comes after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington was ready to talk to North Korea “without preconditions”, though it remains determined to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arsenal.

China and Russia responded positively to Tillerson’s remarks, even after the White House appeared to put his proposal in question by saying Trump’s “views on North Korea have not changed.”

Beijing has pressed for talks to peacefully resolve the crisis, but there are signals that it has begun to prepare for the possibility of the North’s collapse.

Tillerson said Tuesday that US and Chinese officials have discussed scenarios in case the North Korean regime falls, including steps to deal with refugees crossing the border, and how to secure Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.

Washington’s top diplomat said these discussions involved him, the US defence secretary and military chief, and senior Chinese officials.

Such discussions were unthinkable just a few months ago.

But China’s priority has been to convince the United States and North Korea to hold talks.

Beijing has also urged the US, Japan and South Korea to suspend joint military drills in the region in return for North Korea to halt its nuclear activities — an idea consistently rejected by Washington and Seoul.

But “Pyongyang can’t have its cake and eat it, too,” the state-run China Daily warned in an editorial Thursday.

“It cannot expect Washington to engage in direct peace talks with it, while at the same time making such talks more difficult by continuing with its missile launches and nuclear tests.”

In Tokyo, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that the worst outcome would be for the world to “sleepwalk into a war that might have very dramatic circumstances.”

Thaw

With concerns about the peninsula’s stability mounting, South Korea and China issued identically-worded statements last month on their mutual desire to improve relations.

They did not state any specifics, but Beijing has demanded that Seoul formally promise not to deploy any more THAAD launchers and not to join any regional US missile defence system.

On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing had reached “some consensus” with Seoul on THAAD.

In a limited sign of improved ties, China’s state tourism board approved Seoul-bound group tours from some parts of the country last month.

A business delegation including executives from South Korean giants Samsung, Hyundai and LG, is accompanying Moon on the trip, which began Wednesday and is the president’s first state visit to China since he took office in May.

Related:

South Korea, U.S. and China Unite to Give Talks With North Korea Another Chance

December 13, 2017

South Korea’s Moon visits Beijing in effort to repair ties with China

Tillerson: U.S. Open to North Korea Talks Without Preconditions
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. wants to have a dialogue with North Korea “anytime,” backing away from Washington’s previous demand that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons before they come to the table. Photo: AP

BEIJING—South Korea, China and the U.S. signaled a new push to pursue dialogue to help reduce tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program, as the South Korean leader arrived in Beijing for an official visit aimed at repairing bilateral ties.

President Moon Jae-in’s four-day trip began Wednesday, hours after Washington indicated its willingness to open talks with Pyongyang without preconditions—a softened stance that could help unify North Korea’s neighbors in dealing with the hermit state.

China-South Korea ties had soured in the past year as Beijing reacted angrily to Seoul’s deployment of an American missile-defense battery, in a dispute that has hampered efforts to coordinate a regional response against North Korea’s advances in nuclear and ballistic-missile technology.

Both sides agreed in October to set aside the dispute, paving the way for Mr. Moon’s first visit to China since taking office in May. His priorities in a Thursday meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping —their third this year—are to secure the restoration of economic links and coordinate policy on North Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife arrive in China

“China and South Korea share common interests and similar positions on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and negotiation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Tuesday at a regular briefing.

The Threat From North Korea’s Missiles

For Beijing, friendlier ties with Seoul strengthen its hand in nudging Washington toward accepting Chinese proposals for direct talks with Pyongyang, said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at Renmin University in Beijing.

With U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opening the door to direct talks with North Korea, “there’s a loosening of positions” that sets up the Xi-Moon summit as an opportunity to “discuss how to sustain this momentum toward negotiations,” Mr. Cheng said.

Mr. Tillerson’s Tuesday comments included assurances that U.S. troops would stay away from the Chinese border in the event of regime collapse in North Korea—remarks that Chinese analysts call an important concession to Beijing.

“It might encourage China to actively help, for example by putting direct pressure on North Korea to accept the offer,” said Su Hao, an international relations expert at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Asked Wednesday about Mr. Tillerson’s comments, Mr. Lu, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Beijing welcomes efforts to ease tension on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea said Mr. Tillerson’s comments emphasized the need for North Korea to stop its provocations and return to dialogue.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. wants to have a dialogue with North Korea “anytime,” backing away from Washington’s previous demand that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons before they come to the table. Photo: AP

“Under the principle of no tolerance for North Korea’s nuclear weapons, Korea and the U.S.’s position is that various forms of contacts are possible, if it helps in achieving the goal of complete discard of North Korean nuclear weapons in a peaceful way,” said a spokesman for the South Korean presidency.

The left-leaning South Korean administration has held open the door for a resumption of talks with Pyongyang, but those outreaches have been ignored or rebuffed.

Related Coverage

Tillerson Rules Out a Containment Strategy for North Korea (Dec. 12)
How North Korea’s Global Financing Web Works Around Sanctions (Dec. 12)
There was no reaction to Mr. Tillerson’s remarks from North Korea on Wednesday via its state media.

Mr. Moon’s itinerary in China includes a Thursday state banquet and a Friday meeting with Premier Li Keqiang, the country’s No. 2 leader. The South Korean president will then travel to the inland megacity of Chongqing, where he will visit a Hyundai Motor Co. factory and meet the city’s top official, Chen Min’er, a protégé of Mr. Xi.

The visit comes amid signs of Chinese anxiety about simmering tensions over the Korean Peninsula, including efforts by Chinese authorities in areas bordering North Korea to improve public readiness to cope with contingencies.

The official newspaper of Jilin province published a full-page advisory last week teaching residents how to protect themselves from nuclear explosions and radioactive fallout. “Upon detecting the flash from an explosion, don’t watch the fireball. Move quickly into various civil-defense infrastructure for protection,” the advisory said.

Officials in a Chinese border county have set up settlement areas for hosting potential North Korean refugees, according to a purported internal document from a state-owned telecommunications firm widely shared on Chinese social media last week.

Chinese analysts and state media say such measures are necessary precautions that don’t imply any fears in Beijing about an imminent outbreak of armed conflict or a humanitarian crisis on China’s northeastern border.

Rather, the preparations suggest that Chinese authorities are feeling “pessimistic” about the prospects of easing tensions over the Korean Peninsula, said Wang Sheng, a professor at Jilin University who has studied North Korean affairs.

“Having tried its best to put pressure on North Korea, China must now do its best to safeguard the interests of its own people,” Mr. Wang said. “The authorities are likely undertaking a basket of preventive measures—political, military, economic—to minimize the impact from any crisis, while doing so in a low-profile manner to avoid alarming the public.”

—Josh Chin and Kersten Zhang in Beijing, and Min Sun Lee in Seoul contributed to this article.

Write to Chun Han Wong at chunhan.wong@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/south-korea-u-s-and-china-unite-to-give-talks-with-north-korea-another-chance-1513163544

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Related:

N. Korea’s overseas financial network squeezed by US

December 13, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The report said a network of China-based firms had raked in billions of dollars for the North Korean regime for years through the coal trade

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea’s intricate overseas financial network is creaking under the strains of Washington’s economic screws on the impoverished nuclear armed regime, a research report said.The United Nations, United States, European Union and several individual countries have slapped multiple sets of economic sanctions on the North for its menacing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, forcing Pyongyang to come up with illicit ways to evade them.

The North operated a complex offshore financial network to maintain the flow of hard currency, said a report by Washington-based security research group C4ADS and the Sejong Institute in Seoul.

But doing so meant Pyongyang had lost control of its assets, it added.

“By nesting its illicit activity in its overseas networks, North Korea has maintained its access to the international financial system, but its assets are inherently vulnerable,” the report said.

The report, citing findings by the US Department of Justice, said a network of China-based firms had raked in billions of dollars for the North Korean regime for years through the coal trade — with Washington estimating 95 percent of the funds were probably funnelled to the weapons programme.

From 2013 to 2016, four Chinese companies — Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. (DHID), Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Material Co. Ltd (DZMM), Dandong Tianfu Trade Co., and Jin-Hou International Holding Co. Ltd. — accounted for 30 percent of the North’s coal exports, the report found.

“During this four-year period, these imports would have provided an estimated $1,331,024,223 to the North Korean military and WMD program,” it said.

DZMM — the top importer of North Korean coal to China from 2014 to 2016 — followed the general business pattern of “moving coal out of North Korea and moving illegal goods — including military munitions and items — into North Korea”, it added.

But the North’s strategy of offshore finances may backfire in the face of stronger sanctions.

Washington has been filing civil forfeiture complaints against funds held by North Korea-linked companies since September last year and confiscated $84 million from DHID funds across 25 bank accounts and 12 banks alone.

“The Department of Justice’s seizures since September 2016 amount to three times what was frozen in 2005 from Banco Delta Asia,” the report said.

The US Treasury Department placed restrictions on the Macau-based institution in 2005 under suspicions that it was laundering millions for North Korea. The Macau government subsequently froze roughly fifty accounts held in the bank by Pyongyang.

In move that could alienate Japan, Tillerson says U.S. willing to talk to North Korea ‘without preconditions’ — “We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk.”

December 13, 2017

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Image may contain: one or more people, suit and eyeglasses

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson concludes his remarks on the U.S.-Korea relationship during a forum at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington on Tuesday. | REUTERS

BY 

STAFF WRITER
Japan Times
DEC 13, 2017

In a shift that could put Washington at odds with Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to soften the United States’ approach to the North Korean crisis on Tuesday, offering to begin talks without preconditions, including its long-standing demand that Pyongyang first give up its nuclear weapons.

“We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without preconditions,” Tillerson said in a speech livestreamed from the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. “Let’s just meet. We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about.”

The top U.S. diplomat’s comments struck a markedly different tone from past statements that have dismissed talks as unworkable unless the North first ditched its nuclear weapons. They also come just two weeks after Pyongyang, in what it characterized as a major “breakthrough,” test-fired a long-range missile that experts said could strike most, if not all, of the continental United States.

Tillerson said sitting down “face to face” could allow the U.S. and the North to “begin to lay out a map, a road map” for future engagement.

“It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your (nuclear) program,” he said. “They have too much invested in it. And the president is very realistic about that as well.”

While reiterating that Washington’s ultimate goal remained the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Tillerson said the United States was “ready to talk any time they’re ready to talk,” but that Pyongyang must come to the table willing to make choices to change its course.

He did, however, lay down one condition, noting that there should be a “period of quiet” in which such preliminary talks could take place.

“It’s going to be tough to talk if in the middle of our talks you decide to test another device,” he said. “We need a period of quiet.”

It was unclear what this meant, but the U.S. had earlier hinted that a 60-day pause to nuclear and missile tests might be enough to kick-start early talks. Before the North tested its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29, it had gone 75 days without conducting such tests, raising hopes of a fresh diplomatic opening.

Tokyo, however, may not be in the mood for talks.

Japan — especially Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — has been a vociferous advocate of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of using sanctions to rein in the North’s nuclear program.

Asked about Tillerson’s comments, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that Tokyo and Washington remain in “100 percent” agreement on the pressure stance.

But experts said it appeared that Japan had not been consulted before Tillerson’s remarks.

“This has surely blindsided the Abe administration, which noted there was no point for talks, unless there was a deep and meaningful commitment to denuclearization,” said J. Berkshire Miller, a senior visiting fellow with the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo.

“Throw on top of this the potential suspension of U.S.-South Korea military exercises, and the pro-dialogue push from Seoul, Beijing and Moscow — and it appears that the Abe administration is being left out on a branch suddenly — a development which could do significant damage to the U.S.-Japan alliance, especially around questions of U.S. credibility and extended deterrence,” Miller added.

Washington has maintained that its commitment to defending its allies in Japan and South Korea remains “ironclad,” but North Korea’s rapid progress toward building a credible nuclear arsenal capable of hitting the U.S. has stoked concern in Tokyo and Seoul.

In a separate sign that Washington could be laying the groundwork for seizing the diplomatic initiative with Pyongyang, the top U.S. official for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, met with Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, for talks in Tokyo.

Yun was also expected to meet Thursday with North Korean Foreign Ministry officials in Chiang Mai, Thailand, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported late Tuesday, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.

Tillerson, for his part, said the U.S. “would continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops.”

In the meantime, he said, “our military preparation is strong. A full range of contingencies are available and they are ready.”

The United States, Japan and South Korea have ramped up joint military exercises, with Air Self-Defense Force fighter jets training with U.S. strategic bombers and advanced stealth aircraft Tuesday in a show of force.

In his speech, Tillerson acknowledged the importance of the trilateral relationship if the campaign was to bear any fruit.

“This is the basis for the security structure of the region … and we continue to exercise together so that we are ready for any possible military response that might be required.”

It was not immediately clear whether Tillerson, whose influence has appeared to wane within the White House, had the backing of Trump to make such a radical shift.

The White House issued an ambiguous statement after Tillerson’s remarks that left unclear whether Trump had given his blessing for the speech.

“The president’s views on North Korea have not changed,” the statement said. “North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”

Tillerson had previously expressed a desire to reopen shuttered diplomatic channels with Pyongyang, but was called out by Trump over any attempt at doing so.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man … Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump tweeted in October, using his derisive nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Some analysts said the abrupt about-face had left them wondering if the remarks had been sanctioned by the White House.

“Of course, the question remaining here is how much was Tillerson — who looks like his job is in jeopardy — freelancing on this,” the Japan Institute of International Affairs’ Miller said. “There is a real possibility that others in the Trump administration may walk this back in the coming days.”

Tillerson said there were also other uncertainties, given that “we are dealing with a new leader in North Korea that no one ever engaged with.

“He clearly is not like his father, nor is he like his grandfather,” he said, referring to the current leader’s father, Kim Jong Il and the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

North Korea has repeatedly said in state-run media that the U.S. must first end its “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang before it would agree to any talks. Observers have said that it likely had little interest in negotiations with Washington until it has mastered the ability to hit the whole of the U.S. with a nuclear-tipped missile, something some experts say it has yet to achieve.

Kim on Tuesday vowed to “win victory in the showdown” against the U.S. by continuing to manufacture more of the “latest weapons and equipment” to “bolster up the nuclear force in quality and quantity,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday.

During his speech, Tillerson also revealed — apparently for the first time — that the U.S. and China had been talking about how the two would deal with the eruption of conflict or regime collapse in North Korea.

He said the most “important thing” to the U.S. “would be securing those nuclear weapons they’ve already developed, and that nothing falls into hands of” nonstate actors.

The Trump administration, Tillerson said, had assured Beijing that if U.S. troops were forced to move above the 38th parallel that divides the two Koreas to do so, American forces would pull back once the mission was complete.

“That is our commitment we made to them. Our only objective is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and that is all,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s comments come just days after United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman — America’s highest-ranking national in the U.N. Secretariat — returned from a visit to Pyongyang.

Feltman was quoted Tuesday as saying that North Korean officials had told him it was important to prevent war but offered no concrete proposal for talks.

“They listened seriously to our arguments,” Feltman said, though acknowledging that “they did not offer any type of commitment to us at that point.”

“I think they have to reflect on what we said with their own leadership,” he added.

He said he had urged Pyongyang to “signal that it was prepared to consider engagement” with world powers and that the United Nations could help.

“Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we’ve left the door ajar,” he said.

“I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide.”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/12/13/asia-pacific/apparent-shift-tillerson-says-u-s-willing-talk-north-korea-without-preconditions/#.WjDe5EqnGUk

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Tillerson says U.S. ready to talk to North Korea; Japan wants pressure

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered to begin direct talks with North Korea without pre-conditions, backing away from a key U.S. demand that Pyongyang must first accept that giving up its nuclear arsenal would be part of any negotiations.

Tillerson’s new diplomatic overture comes nearly two weeks after North Korea said it had successfully tested a breakthrough intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that put the entire United States mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.

“Let’s just meet,” Tillerson said in a speech to Washington’s Atlantic Council think tank on Tuesday.

Read the rest:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-tillerson/tillerson-says-u-s-ready-to-talk-to-north-korea-japan-wants-pressure-idUSKBN1E62UI