U.S., North clash at UN conference over nukes

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U.S., North clash at UN conference over nukes

North Korea and the United States clashed at a United Nations conference over each other’s military intentions, as Washington said it would use its full range of capabilities to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, to which Pyongyang replied it would never put its nuclear arsenal on the negotiating table.

The growing chasm comes as the United States is trying to pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear and ballistic missile development programs by imposing more economic sanctions, while the North refuses to comply and is threatening to fire four missiles into waters near Guam, an American island in the Western Pacific that hosts strategic U.S. military bases.

Ambassador Robert Wood of the United States to Geneva told the Conference on Disarmament Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s top priority is to protect his country and its allies against the “growing threat” from North Korea, and to do so, the country was ready to use its “full range of capabilities at our disposal,” according to Reuters.

Wood said that the “path to dialogue” between Pyongyang and Washington is still open, but that the United States is “undeterred” in defending against North Korean provocations.

Ju Yong-chol, a councilor for the North Korean mission to Geneva, said his country’s arms development is a “justifiable and legitimate option,” adding that Pyongyang would never place its “self-defensive nuclear deterrence” up for negotiation. “The United States should clearly understand that military threats and pressure only serve as momentum to push the DPRK further into developing fully strengthened nuclear deterrence,” said Ju, according to excerpts from Reuters.

DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

On the ongoing Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill between South Korea and the United States, Ju said it would “add gasoline to the fire, driving the current tense situation to further deterioration.”

China’s ambassador to Geneva, Fu Cong, reiterated Beijing’s call for a “dual suspension” of Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests with Seoul and Washington’s joint military exercises.

Wood flatly rejected the proposition, saying it “unfortunately creates a false equivalency between states that are engaging in legitimate exercises of self-defense who have done so for many years with a regime that has basically violated countless [UN] Security Council resolutions with regard to its proscribed nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Reuters reported.

Towards South Korea, Ju, the North Korean diplomat, reportedly said Seoul ought to ditch its sanctions against the Pyongyang regime if it wanted to improve inter-Korean ties and resume dialogue, taking issue with the Moon Jae-in administration’s dual-track North Korea policy of pressure and engagement.

Though North Korea has threatened to fire four ballistic missiles in waters off Guam, it has not carried out a single ballistic missile test since July 28, when it launched an intercontinental ballistic missile off its eastern coast.

In what appeared to be a peace overture, President Trump said Tuesday at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, that he respected the fact that North Korea was “starting to respect us,” continuing that “something positive” might come about.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson echoed the optimism on Tuesday during a press conference, saying he was “pleased” that Pyongyang had “demonstrated some level of restraint that we’ve not seen in the past.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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