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Japan, U.S., S. Korea vow to boost pressure against Pyongyang

AFP-Jiji CLARK, Philippines (AFP-Jiji) — North Korea’s weapons programs pose “an unprecedented and grave threat” to the United States, South Korea and Japan, defense ministers from the three countries warned Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and his Asian counterparts vowed to step up diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang while enhancing military cooperation as they held security talks in the Philippines.

Tension has been high on the divided Korean Peninsula for months with Pyongyang staging its sixth nuclear test and launching two ICBMs that apparently brought much of the U.S. mainland into range.

“The three ministers condemned, in the strongest terms, North Korea’s continued provocative actions,” read a joint statement from Mattis, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young Moo. “The ministers called on North Korea to abandon its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner.”

The allies also pledged to enforce U.N. sanctions against the North, and expand information sharing.

Mattis is on an Asian tour which will see him visiting Seoul for annual defense talks — ahead of a visit to South Korea by Donald Trump.

All eyes will be on Trump’s message to Pyongyang after the U.S. president and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un have traded threats of war and personal insults.

Trump’s recent remark that “only one thing will work” with North Korea fueled concerns of a potential conflict.

But even some White House advisers say U.S. military options are limited when Pyongyang could launch an artillery barrage on Seoul — only around 50 kilometers from the heavily fortified border and home to 10 million people.

Mattis also met counterparts from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations who are gathering for talks in the northern Philippine city of Clark.

The Pentagon said the U.S. defense chief and ASEAN ministers discussed North Korea as well as the “the need to increase cooperation on countering violent extremism to stem the threat posed from groups” such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and “the threat posed by returning foreign fighters.”

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