Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday expressed “grave concern” about rising tensions in the Korean peninsula over the North’s nuclear tests last year and its recent ballistic missile launch.
Meeting ahead of a leader’s summit in Manila on Saturday, they said members were “mindful that instability in the Korean Peninsula seriously impacts” peace and stability in the region already beset by its own security problems.
“ASEAN strongly urges the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations arising from all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions and international laws in the interest of maintaining international peace and security,” the group said in a statement. North Korea is also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The ministers asked Pyongyang to exercise self-restraint to de-escalate the tension and refrain from actions that may aggravate the situation.
“ASEAN supports the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and in this regard, calls for the resumption of dialogue on the Korean Peninsula to defuse tensions and create conditions conducive to peace and stability,” the ministers said.
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand are joined in ASEAN by Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam.
The statement came as the United States vowed to step up actions against North Korea.
“We are engaging responsible members of the international community to increase pressure on DPRK in order to convince the regime to de-escalate and return to the path of dialogue,” said a statement issued Wednesday by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats.
It said North Korea jeopardizes stability in Northeast Asia and poses a growing threat to allies there and in the U.S. mainland.
“The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations toward that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies,” it said.
Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, earlier welcomed moves by China to help defuse tensions between Pyongyang and Washington and suggested a non-military solution remained the objective.
Earlier this month, North Korea held its largest firing drill to mark the founding anniversary of its armed forces. The show of strength coincided with the 105th celebration of the birth of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung.
Analysts said it was meant to send a message to Washington and its allies, South Korea and Japan, that the hermit kingdom was capable of launching nuclear arms.
So far, North Korea has carried out five nuclear tests but its latest missile test was a failure. In response, the U.S. dispatched an aircraft carrier and a battle group to the region.
Separately, the U.S. State Department noted the use of a deadly nerve agent in the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, as it marked the 20th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a treaty that outlaws their use.
South Korea and Malaysia have accused North Korean government agents of killing Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 on Feb. 13.