US Vice President Kamala Harris and leaders from Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada pledged to put pressure on North Korea as they held urgent talks on Friday about Pyongyang’s ICBM launch.
Hours after North Korea fired the missile that Japan said landed in its waters but could hit the US mainland, Harris met leaders of close US partners on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Bangkok.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms these actions and we reiterate our call on North Korea to cease further unlawful, destabilizing activities,” Harris told reporters at the start of the talks.
“On behalf of the United States, I reaffirm our ironclad commitment to our Indo-Pacific alliances,” she said, using a different term for the Asia-Pacific region.
The launch follows weeks of tensions with North Korea, which US intelligence believes is preparing for a seventh nuclear test.
A White House statement on the Bangkok talks said the six leaders also warned of a “strong and determined response” if North Korea – officially the DPRK – conducts the nuclear test.
The leaders agreed “that the path to dialogue remains open for the DPRK and called on the DPRK to abandon unnecessary provocations and return to serious and sustained diplomacy,” the statement said.
In a veiled reference to China, the isolated and impoverished country’s main supporter, the statement also called on all members of the United Nations to “fully implement” Security Council resolutions that imposed sweeping sanctions on North Korea.
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Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said leaders also want an emergency UN Security Council meeting – where China and Russia vetoed a US-led proposal to tighten sanctions on North Korea in May.
“This is about the whole world coming together to condemn the actions of North Korea and to work for peace and security in our region,” Albanese told Australian reporters.
But Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, speaking at the meeting, acknowledged concerns that North Korea is ignoring the pressure.
“There is a possibility that North Korea will launch more missiles,” Kishida said.
South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the “brazen” rocket launch “should never be tolerated”.
“The international community must react decisively,” he said.
– Increase pressure –
It was the latest meeting on North Korea after US President Joe Biden met with Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on the sidelines of a Southeast Asia summit in Cambodia on Sunday.
They issued a similar warning ahead of a nuclear test – prompting North Korea to denounce the tripartite meeting as evidence of US hostility.
Friday’s meeting showed no bucking from the allies, who added three more countries to their common front.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the rocket launch “reckless”.
“This is totally unacceptable and must not continue,” Trudeau told reporters.
He said Canada plans to increase its military engagement in Asia as part of an upcoming regional strategy.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged her country’s “continued response and strength of response” and said she understood the “fear” felt by Japan and South Korea.
Despite the pressure campaign, the Biden administration believes China is ultimately the country with the best chance of pressuring North Korea.
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Meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali on Monday, Biden expressed confidence that Beijing is “not looking to North Korea to engage in further escalation.”
Harris attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting after Biden flew home for his granddaughter’s wedding.
Biden has offered to start a working-level dialogue with North Korea but has seen no interest from Pyongyang.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held three televised meetings with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, which managed to ease tensions but failed to reach a lasting deal.
The United States says it will never recognize North Korea as a nuclear power, while most experts believe Pyongyang will never abandon its arsenal.