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U.S., Japan, South Korea envoys condemn North Korea missile test, plan to discuss common threat

AP, Kyodo

The United States, South Korea and Japan on Thursday condemned North Korea’s latest missile test and said they will enhance security cooperation in response.

A joint statement by the nations’ three top diplomats said the U.S. “remains steadfast” in its defense commitments to the two Asian allies, “backed by the full range of its nuclear and conventional defense capabilities.”

The statement came after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Bonn, Germany, where they were attending a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of 20 nations.

On Sunday, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile from a mobile launcher, signaling advancement in its capabilities as it develops nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

South Korea and Japan, both hosts to tens of thousands of U.S. service members, are within range of North Korean missiles. Washington, under the Obama administration, nudged Seoul and Tokyo to set aside historical acrimony and work closer together in the face of the common threat.

In 2014, the three nations signed a pact on joint intelligence-sharing about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Although relations remain tense, South Korea and Japan in November agreed to share sensitive information bilaterally as well.

U.S. President Donald Trump this week vowed to “deal with” North Korea, calling it “a big, big problem.” But he has not spelled out what he intends to do. Experts say that North Korea will likely gain the capacity to reach the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons in the next few years.

The statement also said the three ministers directed their officials in charge of North Korea policy to hold consultations in the coming days regarding the ballistic missile and nuclear challenges posed by Pyongyang.

The trilateral session was initiated by Washington, according to a Japanese official.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claimed in January that his country was ready to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, a veiled threat to strike the United States with a missile carrying a nuclear warhead.

Kishida, Tillerson and Yun affirmed their coordination in ensuring that all countries, including China, “fully and effectively” implement sanctions under U.N. Security Council resolutions, and that violations of such resolutions by North Korea “will be met with an even stronger international response,” according to the statement.

Beijing is often criticized for not doing enough to rein in Pyongyang’s development of weapons of mass destruction despite having considerable economic leverage on the country.

Without mentioning China by name, the statement said the ministers “noted that nations that border North Korea or are affected by the regime’s destabilizing behavior all urge North Korea to refrain from provocative actions.”