WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday announced talks with allies South Korea and Japan on soaring tensions with North Korea, rejecting a call from China which had wanted broader negotiations.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea on Monday, some two weeks after Pyongyang killed four South Koreans in its first shelling in decades on a civilian area.
“This demonstrates the close coordination between the United States, Republic of Korea and Japan and our commitment to security in the Korean Peninsula and stability in the region,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.
The United States organised the talks in Washington despite a call by China – impoverished Pyongyang's main economic and political supporter – for an emergency resumption of moribund six-nation negotiations on North Korea.
“We are not interested in talks, and talks are no substitute for having North Korea fulfil its international obligations, meet its commitments and cease provocations,” Crowley said.
The six-nation talks – which involve China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States – agreed in 2005 and 2007 to provide aid and security guarantees to Pyongyang in exchange for the regime ending its nuclear programme.
President Barack Obama's administration, despite its support for engagement with US adversaries, has refused to return to six-nation talks until North Korea makes clear that it will implement the previous agreements.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the top US military officer, said that China needed to “step up” its pressure on North Korea and that its call for six-nation talks “will not substitute for action.”
“I believe that China's leadership has more influence in Pyongyang than any other country – period. There is no other country that's close,” said Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“So the six-party talks might be interesting, but it is going to come out of Beijing that this thing gets taken to a level where we can figure out a way to contain (North Korea's) reckless behaviour and move ahead,” Mullen said.
Mullen, who was speaking at the Centre for American Progress think-tank, voiced fear that a resumption of talks would serve to “reward North Korea's provocative and destabilising behaviour in bargaining for new incentives.”
In another show of support for Seoul, the United States and South Korean navies on Wednesday wrapped up the allies' biggest-ever joint manoeuvres which saw jet fighters thunder through the sky above a US carrier battle group.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called in Beijing for all sides in the Korean crisis to avoid actions that “inflame the situation.”
“The parties concerned should keep calm and exercise restraint, and work to bring the situation back onto the track of dialogue and negotiation,” Yang said.
A State Department official said on condition of anonymity that China was not invited to Monday's talks, but its absence was not intended as a “snub.”
But Bonnie Glaser, an expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the United States was making clear to China that “if they wish to get back to the table, then they need to exert some pressure on North Korea.”
“They want to be included. And we are taking a series of measures in which we are really strengthening coordination with our allies, and this is not really in China's long-term interests,” she said.
Reclusive North Korea's Kim Jong-Il is in the midst of handing power to his youngest son Kim Jong-Un, a transition that some analysts cite as a reason for North Korea's recent actions.
The communist state recently boasted of the sophistication of its uranium enrichment plant. A visiting US nuclear scientist called the plant with 2,000 centrifuges “ultra-modern” and “stunning.”
US and South Korean investigators have also blamed North Korea for the March sinking of South Korea's Cheonan corvette, in which 46 sailors were killed.
“The ante is going up and I think… the stakes in terms of stability in the region are going up,” Mullen said.
Channel News Asia