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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his United Nations debut Friday, chairing a high-level Security Council session on the threat posed by North Korea’s quest to build a nuclear bomb, and calling on the body to take action “before North Korea does.”
“The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul or Tokyo is real, and it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland,” he said. “Indeed, the DPRK has repeatedly claimed it plans to conduct such a strike. Given that rhetoric, the United States cannot idly stand by.”
Tillerson urged the international community to fully implement U.N. sanctions and to suspend or downgrade diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.
“With each successive detonation and missile test, North Korea pushes northeast Asia and the world closer to instability and broader conflict,” Tillerson told the 15-member council. “The threat of a North Korean attack on Seoul or Tokyo is real.”
China urges dialogue
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Friday that “dialogue and negotiations” are the only choice when dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat, and he said he would do all he can to avoid a breakout of war.
Speaking before the United Nations Security Council, Wang cautioned that the tension on the Korean peninsula is at a “critical point” and the body needed to convene a ministerial session today to discuss solutions.
“No matter what happens, we have to stay committed to two basic directions,” said Wang.
“The first direction is to realize the denuclearization of the peninsula and uphold the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. The second direction is to uphold peace and stability on the peninsula and not to allow chaos or war to break out on the peninsula,” Wang said.
Trump administration officials have expressed hope in recent weeks that Beijing is willing to do more to put pressure on the North Korean government.
The Security Council meeting comes two days after President Donald Trump gathered lawmakers at the White House for extraordinary classified briefings on the threat from Pyongyang and on his administration’s plans to try to defuse the rising tensions.
No immediate council action is expected, but Tillerson is expected to push for other members to join the U.S. in ratcheting up the pressure on Pyongyang.
Friday’s meeting will also include foreign ministers from Japan and South Korea, and will be a critical opportunity for Tillerson to lay out Washington’s game plan for countries that are on the frontline of the North Korean nuclear threat.
“Tillerson’s appearance before the Security Council is going to be, I imagine, a call for greater focus, greater urgency and greater strength by the Security Council,” said David Pressman, former deputy U.S. United Nations ambassador and a partner with Boies Schiller Flexner in New York. He said it also would be a call to China to use its influence on North Korea to have it change course.
Last year, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and 24 ballistic missile launches. Already this year it has carried out ballistic missile tests in February, March and April, and experts believe another nuclear test could be imminent.