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article imageUS friends meet on N.Korea but China absence looms

By Michel COMTE, with Dave Clark in Washington (AFP)     Jan 16, 2018 in World

Allied world powers met Tuesday for crisis talks on the North Korean nuclear missile threat, but without key player China, there seemed little chance of a breakthrough.

Canada and the United States are hosting a two-day meeting in Vancouver to bolster solidarity in the face of Kim Jong-Un's regime.

But neither China -- the North's main ally and sole significant trade partner -- nor Russia were invited for the ministerial-level talks, limiting the scope for effective new initiatives.

"The most important relevant parties of the Korean peninsula issue haven't taken part in the meeting so I don't think the meeting is legal or representative," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

Lu denounced the "Cold War mentality" of "relevant parties," without naming the United States, which is urging Beijing to cut off fuel oil supplies to Pyongyang to force it to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament.

With China absent from Vancouver, US President Donald Trump spoke with his counterpart Xi Jinping.

According to the White House, the pair expressed hope that a recent resumption in face-to-face talks between North and South Korea "might prompt a change in North Korea's destructive behavior."

But Trump also "committed to sustain the United States-led global campaign of maximum pressure to compel North Korea to commit to denuclearization."

- 'Bark of a rabid dog' -

Trans-Pacific tensions have been running high for months, despite the recent return to direct talks between Kim's regime and Moon Jae-In's South Korea.

Over the weekend, a false alarm in Hawaii warning of an incoming ballistic missile rattled nerves, and earlier this month, Trump and Kim traded saber-rattling bluster.

As the talks got underway, Pyongyang issued its first response to Trump's argument that his nuclear arsenal dwarfs the North's fledgling missile batteries.

Official party newspaper Rodong Sinmun dismissed Trump's "swaggering" as the "spasm of a lunatic" frightened by North Korea's power and the "bark of a rabid dog."

At his annual press conference  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeatedly attacked the US  a...
At his annual press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeatedly attacked the US, accusing Washington of issuing ultimatums and failing to recognize "the reality of the emerging multipolar world."
Yuri KADOBNOV, AFP

The so-called Vancouver Group represents 20 countries that sent troops or support to the UN-backed side in the 1950-53 Korean War.

They include Australia, Britain, France, India, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. Military officials will also be present at the meeting.

Many have questioned the utility of a conference where China -- which supported the North during the conflict -- is absent.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that China and Russia "absolutely will play an important role in moving toward peace on the Korean peninsula."

On Monday at his annual press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeatedly attacked the US, accusing Washington of failing to recognize "the reality of the emerging multipolar world."

Pope Francis, meanwhile, admitted that he was frightened by the prospects of an accidental nuclear war.

"I think we are at the very edge," he told reporters aboard his plane en route to Chile for a week-long visit there and in Peru.

"I am really afraid of this. One accident is enough to precipitate things."

- Next steps -

Location of Hawaii and the estimated range of missiles tested by North Korea in 2017
Location of Hawaii and the estimated range of missiles tested by North Korea in 2017
John SAEKI, AFP

The Vancouver meeting kicked off late Monday with a dinner and several bilateral meetings, before a full gathering Tuesday to hammer out next steps in the standoff.

Among the proposals to be considered is sending warships to the Sea of Japan to stop and inspect suspect ships bound for North Korea in order to enforce sanctions.

South Korea already seized two ships carrying oil to the North in December but some have warned that such methods could increase military tensions or be interpreted as an act of war by Kim's isolated regime.

- Push for diplomacy -

The ultimate aim is to force Kim into a diplomatic negotiation to abandon the weapons his regime sees as crucial for its survival.

South Korea's Moon, who advocates dialogue with the North, said last week he was willing to have a summit with Kim "under the right conditions," but added that "certain outcomes must be guaranteed."

Pyongyang rejected the idea of setting preconditions -- such as a step toward denuclearization -- and slammed Moon as "ignorant and unreasonable."

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul but it will send athletes, an orchestra and high-level officials to next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Seoul touted the recent inter-Korean talks timed to precede the games as a potential first step to bringing the North into negotiations over its nuclear arsenal.

Further bilateral talks between the North and South are scheduled for Wednesday, after the Vancouver meeting.

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