Neil Connor in Beijing
Rex Tillerson, Washington’s top diplomat, said yesterday that North Korea “need not fear” the US, as he began a visit to Asia calling for a “new approach” to the rogue nation.
The US Secretary of State said previous diplomatic efforts to rein in the north had failed, but offered no fresh ideas on how to deal with Pyongyang, which is alarming the world with its nuclear ambitions.
China said it would welcome fresh ideas on dealing with simmering tensions in north-east Asia, while a North Korean official in Beijing warned that the US and South Korea were taking the region to the “brink of nuclear war”.
Mr Tillerson made his comments after he met with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo. “North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbours in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea,” he said.
“With this in mind, the United States calls on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and refrain from any further provocation.”
Tensions were raised last week after Pyongyang fired four missiles, in an apparent response to joint military exercises by South Korea and the US which began a few days earlier. Such manoeuvres had caused Pyongyang to take “tough measures”, a North Korean diplomat told reporters in Beijing yesterday.
He said they had bought the Korean peninsula “to the brink of nuclear war”, according to a report by the ‘Global Times’ newspaper.
North Korea caused international outrage in 2006 when it carried out its first underground atomic test. Four more tests have followed, including two last year.
Tough UN sanctions have failed to deter the North from scrapping its ambitious military programme.
Last week the Chinese foreign minister suggested Pyongyang could halt its nuclear plans if the US and South Korea suspended military activities in the region. US officials rejected that proposal, and Mr Tillerson called for a fresh outlook during his visit to Japan.
“In the face of the ever-escalating threat it is clear that a new approach is required,” Mr Tillerson said. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “If the US or another country has a better plan, a better proposal, they can bring it out.”
Mr Tillerson travels to South Korea today before heading to Beijing at the weekend. He is expected to urge Chinese officials to exert more pressure on the North, and also lay the groundwork for a visit to the US next month by Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.