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Kerry: U.S. ready to reduce military presence in Asia if N. Korea gives up nuclear program

2014/10/23 04:26

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday the United States is prepared to reduce its military presence in Asia if North Korea rejoins nuclear negotiations and follows through on its denuclearization commitment.

Kerry made the remark in Berlin during a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, expressing hope for restarting the long-stalled six-party nuclear talks "in the next weeks, months perhaps."

   "We've said from day one that if North Korea wants to rejoin the community of nations, it knows how to do it. It can come to the talks prepared to discuss denuclearization," Kerry said, according to a transcript provided by the State Department.

"And the United States is fully prepared -- if they do that and begin that process, we are prepared to begin the process of reducing the need for American force and presence in the region because the threat itself would then be reduced," he said.

The six-party talks, which bring together the U.S., North and South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, have been stalled since the last meeting in 2008. The North has called for an unconditional resumption of the negotiations, but the U.S. demands that Pyongyang first take concrete steps demonstrating its commitment to denuclearization.

That stance reflects deep skepticism the U.S. has about North Korea, a country that has a track record of starting a crisis, coming to negotiations and reaching an agreement in exchange for economic and other concessions, then ditching the deal.

"We hope to get back to talks, but we need some indication from Kim Jong-un, and the regime, that they are, in fact, prepared to talk seriously about the central topic of the talks, which is the issue of denuclearization. We do not want to return to talks just for the sake of talks," Kerry said.

Kerry also said that he had "long talks about North Korea" when he hosted Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi in his hometown of Boston over the weekend.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf played down Kerry's remarks about the possibility of the U.S. reducing its military presence in the region, saying the top American diplomat was not indicating anything new.

"He was restating our long-standing policy that we are focused on denuclearization of the peninsula, and obviously ... over the long term, this is part of the discussion," she said. "But he was not, in any way, going beyond what we've said for a very long time about what has the potential to happen here."

   North Korea has made a lot of promises in the past, but haven't lived up to them, Harf said.

"So the ball is in their court in terms of that. And we'll see what they choose to do," she said. "They are in violation of numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions. They need to live up to their own obligations. We will keep working with our partners, whether it's China, others, to help get them back in line here."

   jschang@yna.co.kr

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