The United States called Thursday on its partners in the Asia-Pacific to downgrade diplomatic ties with North Korea, ahead of an upcoming regional security meeting in Manila and a day after the Philippines criticized Pyongyang for its recent missile tests.
The American embassy in Manila issued a statement encouraging “all countries including ASEAN members” to “downgrade diplomatic engagements or exchanges” with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The top diplomats from Pyongyang and Washington are set to join their counterparts from 25 other countries for the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) next week, where North Korea’s missile tests and its nuclear weapons program figure to be among high on the agenda.
“We hope that all ARF members will use this forum, which is designed to address regional peace and security, to highlight that DPRK behavior has been unacceptable and call upon the DPRK to cease its unlawful actions,” the embassy statement said.
The statement came a day after this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) chairman, Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte, branded North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “crazy” for pushing his country’s nuclear ambitions.
Duterte accused his North Korean counterpart of “playing with dangerous toys” that endangered the entire region, alluding to its missile tests that have provoked international condemnation.
He said countries around the region should convince Pyongyang to stop with its nuclear tests, which he feared could “deplete” natural resources.
ARF: ‘A forum for dialogue’
The United States has criticized Pyongyang for testing intercontinental ballistic missiles on July 4 and July 29, and raising fears that the hermit state was on track to develop nuclear warheads that could reach the American mainland.
Before the July 29 test, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had warned that the threat from North Korea necessitated an appropriate response because all affected countries were operating under a “short period of time.”
Philippine foreign ministry spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said Thursday that the region was “very much concerned” about North Korea’s missile testing, and noted that in April, regional diplomats had called on Pyongyang to stop its tests.
“And of course, all of us surrounding the region are very much concerned about the potential for escalation of this issue,” Bolivar said.
He said the ARF provides a “very candid venue” for all parties to express concerns about North Korea while finding peaceful ways to address the issue.
“The ARF is a forum for dialogue where all the parties to this issue on the Korean Peninsula are present, and there is an opportunity for them to exchange views on issues of concern,” Bolivar said.
Bolivar appeared to be reacting to comments to reporters by a State Department official in Washington a day earlier, who was asked about how the United States felt about North Korean being at the same table with other countries during the upcoming ARF meeting.
“What we have been sort of looking at is having a serious discussion of what it would take for a member to be suspended from this organization [the ASEAN Regional Forum] that is dedicated to conflict prevention and diplomacy,” Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told reporters during a briefing before Tillerson’s trip to Southeast Asia.
She added that the secretary of state did not plan to meet face-to-face with his North Korean counterpart in the Philippine capital, and the U.S. was also looking to lobby other countries to apply more pressure in isolating Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program.
“I think what we would expect to see this year at the meeting would be a general chorus of condemnation of North Korea’s provocative behavior and pretty serious diplomatic isolation directed at the North Korean foreign minister,” Thornton said, according to an official transcript.
BenarNews staff in Washington contributed to this report.