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(3rd LD) In defense chiefs' talks, regional powers vow stronger ties against N. Korea

2017/10/23 19:43

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(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details; CHANGES headline; ADDS photo)

By Lee Chi-dong

CLARK, Philippines, Oct. 23 (Yonhap) -- The defense chiefs of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan on Monday emphasized the importance of strengthening their partnerships in maximizing pressure on North Korea.

"Our trilateral security cooperation has played a critical role in deterring North Korea's nuclear and missile threats and maintaining peace and stability in the region," South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said at the start of the meeting with his American and Japanese counterparts -- James Mattis and Itsunori Onodera.

They are visiting Clark Freeport Zone, northwest of Manila, to attend the 4th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus).

The Pentagon chief agreed that it's important to handle the North Korea issue with a "single voice," adding the U.S. recognizes the need for the closest possible relationship and transparent communication with the regional allies.

"America's commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea... two of our most respected allies, remains ironclad and we recognize that we are stronger together," he said.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (L) poses for a photo with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts James Mattis and Itsunori Onodera during their meeting in Clark, the Philippines, on Oct. 23, 2017 (Yonhap) South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (L) poses for a photo with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts James Mattis and Itsunori Onodera during their meeting in Clark, the Philippines, on Oct. 23, 2017 (Yonhap)

Mattis reaffirmed Washington's goal of achieving the "complete, verifiable, irreversible" denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Japan's defense chief took a tougher tone against Pyongyang for its continued provocations including the recent launch of ballistic missiles over Japan. Onodera said the North's nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities have progressed at an "unprecedented, critical and imminent" pace and level.

"We have to take calibrated and differentiated responses to meet with that level of threat," he said.

He noted that Tokyo has strongly supported Washington's statement that "all options are on the table" in maximizing pressure on Pyongyang.

It marked the first tripartite meeting among Song, Mattis and Onodera. The South Korean minister took office in July.

Before the three-way session, Song had separate bilateral talks with Mattis and Onodera.

Song and Mattis are due to meet each other again in Seoul on the weekend for the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) of the allies, in which North Korea will be a top agenda item.

Last week, a key North Korean diplomat said the Kim Jong-un regime will stick to its nuclear arsenal.

The U.S. will have to "put up" with the reality that Pyongyang possesses nuclear weapons, Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North American department of the North's foreign ministry, said at a nonproliferation conference in Moscow last week.

"This is a matter of life and death for us," she said. "We will respond to fire with fire."

   Her remarks add to skepticism that negotiations will resume anytime soon on the communist nation's nuclear program despite more than a month of a hiatus in its provocations.

South Korean defense officials say that the North apparently has both "technological needs" and political motivation to carry out additional provocations.

They predict that the North may press ahead with a "real-distance" intercontinental ballistic missile launch following a host of mid-range missile launches.

They do not rule out the possibility of the North firing a submarine-based ballistic missile or conducting another nuclear test by the end of this year.

ASEAN defense ministers open their annual talks in Clark, the Philippines, on Oct. 23, 2017, in this photo provided by AFP. (Yonhap) ASEAN defense ministers open their annual talks in Clark, the Philippines, on Oct. 23, 2017, in this photo provided by AFP. (Yonhap)

In the ADMM on Monday, the ASEAN ministers expressed grave concerns about the escalation of tensions in Korea, including the North's nuclear weapon and missile tests.

They also underscored the need to work toward the denuclearization of Korea in a peaceful manner and called for the exercise of self-restraint and the resumption of negotiations.

The ASEAN ministers are scheduled to hold a broader round of talks with the eight dialogue partners from the Asia-Pacific region in the plenary session of the ADMM-Plus on Tuesday. The other member states are China, Russia, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The ADMM-Plus, launched in 2010, is held every two or three years.

It's a conference on a broad range of regional security issues, including maritime security, the fight against terrorism and cybersecurity.

Some member states are seeking to hold the meeting each year.

lcd@yna.co.kr

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