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At UN, world leaders confront North Korea crisis

By AFP/Carole Landry   September 21, 2017 | 03:29 am PT
At UN, world leaders confront North Korea crisis
North Korea's Ambassador to the U.N., Ja Song Nam, attends the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. Photo by Reuters/Eduardo Munoz.
The threat from North Korea's nuclear and missile tests has dominated this year's gathering of world leaders, but divisions remain over how to confront Pyongyang.

North Korea's nuclear threat takes center stage at the United Nations on Thursday as U.S. President Donald Trump holds talks with leaders of Japan and South Korea and the Security Council meets to push for sanctions to be enforced against Pyongyang.

After threatening to "totally destroy North Korea" in his first address to the General Assembly, Trump will sit down with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean leader Moon Jae-In to discuss the way forward.

Also on Thursday, Moon will take the U.N. podium to appeal for international support in the standoff with the North, which has carried out six nuclear tests and fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who will also deliver their speeches on Thursday, have called for diplomatic talks and warned that military action would be catastrophic.

In his U.N. address on Wednesday, Japan's Abe backed the tough U.S. stance, declaring that the time for dialogue with North Korea was over and that pressure from sanctions must be brought to bear.

At the Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will push for fully implementing a new raft of sanctions targeting North Korea's exports and its energy supplies.

The council last week adopted new punitive measures, slapping an export ban on textiles, ending work permits for North Korean guest workers and capping oil shipments.

That was a significant ratcheting-up of sanctions aimed at cutting off revenue used by Pyongyang to develop its military programs, but their impact hinges mostly on China, North Korea's ally and main trading partner.

The United States called for the special council meeting on non-proliferation that will be attended by foreign ministers from the 15 countries including China, Russia and Japan.

Military threats as a tactic

Washington and its allies hope the tough economic sanctions will build pressure on Pyongyang to come to the table and negotiate an end to its military programs.

The U.S. administration has refused to offer North Korea incentives to open negotiations and has ramped up threats of military action to force leader Kim Jong-Un -- whom Trump has dubbed "Rocket Man" -- to change course.

Commenting on Trump's fiery speech, French President Emmanuel Macron surmised that the "military threats can serve a purpose from a tactical point of view" to jolt Pyongyang into changing course.

"When you consider him and his father, it was only when such threats were made that negotiations did happen," Macron told reporters.

In his U.N. address, Abe said the world had already tried to reach a negotiated settlement with North Korea, starting with the U.S.-backed 1994 Agreed Framework that collapsed a decade later.

"Again and again, attempts to resolve issues through dialogue have all come to naught. In what hope of success are we now repeating the very same failure a third time?" he said.

"What is needed," said Abe, "is not dialogue, but pressure."

Opening this year's gathering, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that "fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings" that could ignite a nuclear war, and called for a political solution.

Guterres is due to meet on Saturday with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho on the sidelines of the assembly to send out feelers on possible diplomatic talks.

Ri, who takes the podium on Friday, dismissed Trump's threats to destroy his country as "a dog's bark" and said they would have zero impact.

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