Tension escalates after Pence's strong warning to N Korea

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 18.04.2017 00:22

As tension rises over North Korea, Russia warned Washington against launching a unilateral strike on North Korea, after US Vice President Mike Pence said the era of "strategic patience" with Pyongyang was over.

"This is a very risky path," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference in Moscow. "We do not accept the reckless nuclear missile actions of Pyongyang that breach UN resolutions, but that does not mean that you can break international law," he said. "I hope that there will not be any unilateral actions like the one we saw recently in Syria."

China urged a return to negotiations over North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Monday that tensions need to be eased on the Korean peninsula to bring the escalating dispute there to a peaceful resolution. Lu says China wants to resume multi-party negotiations that ended in stalemate in 2009. He suggested plans to deploy a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea were damaging its relations with China.

Viewing his adversaries in the distance, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the tense zone dividing North and South Korea and warned Pyongyang that after years of testing the U.S. and South Korea with its nuclear ambitions, "the era of strategic patience is over."

Pence made an unannounced visit to the Demilitarized Zone Monday at the start of his 10-day trip to Asia in a U.S. show of force that allowed the vice president to gaze at North Korean soldiers from afar and stare directly across a border marked by razor wire. As the brown bomber jacket-clad vice president was briefed near the military demarcation line, two North Korean soldiers watched from a short distance away, one taking multiple photographs of the American visitor.

Pence told reporters near the DMZ that President Donald Trump was hopeful China would use its "extraordinary levers" to pressure the North to abandon its weapons program, a day after the North's failed missile test launch. But Pence expressed impatience with the unwillingness of the regime to move toward ridding itself of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Pointing to the quarter-century since the United States first confronted North Korea over its attempts to build nuclear weapons, the vice president said a period of patience had followed. "But the era of strategic patience is over," he declared. "President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable."

Pence's visit, full of Cold War symbolism, came amid increasing tensions and heated rhetoric on the Korean Peninsula. While the North did not conduct a nuclear test, the specter of a potential test and an escalated US response has trailed Pence as he undertakes his Asian tour.

Trump wrote Sunday on Twitter that China was working with the United States on "the North Korea problem." His national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the US would rely on its allies as well as Chinese leadership to resolve the issues with North Korea.

The Trump administration is hoping that China will help rein in North Korea in exchange for other considerations. Last week, Trump said he would not declare China a currency manipulator, pulling back from a campaign promise, saying that China has changed its ways, as he looked for help from Beijing, which is the North's dominant trade partner.

Along with the dispatching of the US aircraft carrier and other vessels into waters off the Korean Peninsula, thousands of US and South Korean troops, tanks and other weaponry were deployed last month in their biggest joint military exercises. That led North Korea to issue routine threats of attacks on its rivals if they show signs of aggression.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, including two last year. Recent satellite imagery suggests the country could conduct another underground nuclear test at any time.

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