Kerry in Japan to discuss North Korea

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Japan on Sunday to discuss nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula after securing vital support from China to help defuse the weeks-long crisis.

On the final stop of a 10-day tour, he was to meet first with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, which has deployed Patriot missiles around the capital in anticipation of a missile launch by the North.

As the top diplomats prepared to meet, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will hold talks with Kerry on Monday, said Pyongyang had to realise it was harming itself by being "provocative".

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There are fears any launch could come on Monday, the anniversary of the birth of the North's late founder Kim Il-Sung. The presence of Kerry in the region, ensuring maximum publicity, may also appeal to the regime.

"The government will do its utmost to protect the lives and safety of the Japanese people," Abe told local reporters during a visit to Iwo To, better known as Iwo Jima, where he attended a war memorial service.

"The international community has to be united and make North Korea realise that their provocative acts do not bring any benefit to North Korea and that the situation for them is becoming more difficult," Abe said, according to national broadcaster NHK.

"Japan wants to coordinate with the United States, South Korea, China and Russia and convey the message to North Korea that it must not repeat its provocations and must not launch missiles."

On Sunday, Kerry first visited the 14th century Zojoji shrine in Tokyo, before hosting a chat with Japanese and American young people at the US ambassador's residence in the capital.

His visit follows an intense day of diplomacy Saturday in Beijing, where he warned Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping that the stakes for global and regional security were high.

China is Pyongyang's sole major ally and backer, and is widely seen as the only country with leverage to influence its actions -- although it is reluctant to risk destabilising the regime.

The top US diplomat hailed Saturday's joint commitment from Chinese and US leaders to work together to dial down the tensions as "unprecedented".

"The importance of the visit yesterday really cannot be overstated," Kerry told US embassy staff in Beijing before flying to Tokyo.

"This is a critical time needless to say, being able to speak directly to my Chinese counterpart and try to focus on some very critical issues is of major importance."

During his whirlwind tour, Kerry paid his first ever visit to South Korea meeting new President Park Geun-Hye on Friday, where he offered public support for her plans to initiate some trust-building with the North.

But Pyongyang on Sunday dismissed the South's offer for talks on the future of the Kaesong joint industrial zone, after the North announced it would withdraw its 53,000 workers and suspend operations.

Seoul has urged Pyongyang to "come to the dialogue table" to revive the complex, a rare symbol of cross-border economic cooperation and crucial hard currency source for the North.

But Pyongyang said the offer by the South's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae was a "meaningless" and "cunning" gesture aimed at concealing its true intentions to invade the North.

Kerry did not offer up any specific details of how Beijing, which has backed Pyongyang since the 1950-53 Korean War, intends to rein in the new North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

But he said Saturday that "China is very serious, very serious, about denuclearising" the peninsula, adding Chinese leaders had made their intention to stand by international standards "crystal clear".

China's State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who is in charge of Beijing's foreign policy, said his nation "will work with other relevant parties including the United States to play a constructive role".

The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey this month will lead a delegation to Beijing to follow up on the talks and ensure they were not just rhetoric, Kerry said.

China is estimated to provide as much as 90 percent of its neighbour's energy imports, 80 percent of its consumer goods and 45 percent of its food, according to the US-based Council on Foreign Relations.

But analysts say it is wary of pushing too hard for fear of a regime collapse sending waves of hungry refugees flooding into China and ultimately leading to a reunified Korea allied with the United States right on its border.

Kerry has repeatedly warned that any new missile launch by the North in the coming days would be seen as "provocative".

But he raised the possibility that "if the threat disappears" and North Korea denuclearises, Washington could stand down its missile defences as it would no longer have "the same imperative... to have that kind of robust, forward-leaning posture".

by Jo Biddle © 2013 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Apr 14, 2013