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Published: Sun, May 07, 2017
USA | By Yvette Dunn

Tillerson meets ASEAN ministers to seek support on North Korea


US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Asean foreign ministers on Thursday to do more to help cut funding streams for North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes and to minimise diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

In his first ministerial meeting with all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Tillerson also called on nations with competing claims in the South China Sea to cease all island building and militarization amid talks about creating a maritime code of conduct. The new images indicate "an apparent resumption of activity" at the North Portal, the tunnel where North Korea appears to have been preparing for a nuclear test, according to 38 North, a Washington-based monitoring project. Asean leaders nonetheless "underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety" during the Asean summit in Manila last month.

In a press conference after the meeting, State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia Patrick Murphy reported Tillerson as saying this after making it clear that the Trump administration's aim is denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That is what Pyongyang has done for the last 20 years, is cause us to have to negotiate to get them to sit down.

The official said that led to a broader review of freedom of navigations operations, particularly those in the South China Sea, to ensure the military tactic squared with the overall U.S. policy toward China - including diplomatic and political efforts that are taking a more conciliatory stance toward Beijing.

"We told them we're watching what you're doing, when we see you not implementing, we see companies, we see individuals that are violating these sanctions, we're going to contact you, we're going to ask you to take care of it", Tillerson said.

President Trump's "America first" philosophy means restoring "balance" in relationships with allies, such as in trade and defense spending.

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Enrique Manalo, acting foreign secretary of the Philippines, said the way forward with North Korea was through dialogue and de-escalation of tensions. In a speech Thursday, Duterte again stressed that China plays an important role in cooling down tensions in the Korean peninsula, as Beijing is considered the closest and most powerful ally of Pyongyang. "We are encouraging continued and further steps across all of ASEAN".

The US is ready to ramp up pressure against North Korea through additional penalties, secondary sanctions and a tighter implementation of United Nations resolutions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday, adding "a lot of work" is left to maximize its strategy.

The meeting came on the heels of a trip to Jakarta by US Vice-President Mike Pence during which he visited the Asean secretariat, and confirmed that President Donald Trump would attend the East Asia and US-Asean summits in the Philippines in November.

Tillerson said the administration is 20 percent to 25 percent of its way into a strategy that includes preparing more sanctions against government officials and individuals, convincing other countries to apply existing United Nations sanctions more rigorously and "leaning hard" on China to use its influence to get North Korea to change direction.

On the global front, Washington is expected to push the worldwide community including China to limit North Korean coal imports according to the UN Security Council resolution and downgrade or sever diplomatic relations with Pyongyang to deepen the regime's economic and diplomatic isolation as brought up by Tillerson at the UN Security Council meeting last month.

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