(NEW YORK) — Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Tokyo Sunday for the last leg of his Asia trip, reiterating the Obama Administration’s pledge to seek a “peaceful resolution” on the Korean peninsula, amid increasing unease about North Korean provocations in the region.
Meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Kerry said the U.S. would not rule out direct talks with North Korea, but would only consider it if Pyongyang took steps towards denuclearization, and agreed to negotiate in a “responsible way.”
“I think it’s really unfortunate that the media and others have been so focused on the possibility of war when there’s a possibility of peace,” Kerry said. “We can find a way to resolve these differences at the negotiating table.”
Kerry’s visit to Japan comes as Pyongyang ramps up its rhetoric towards Tokyo.
On Friday, the regime singled out Japan as the first target in the event of a war on the Korean peninsula, in a scathing commentary that raised concerns in a country without a combat military, but Self Defense forces.
On Sunday, Kishida said Japan was fully prepared against such contingencies, including a potential missile launch, but added that Tokyo would push forward with a “dialogue and pressure” policy.
“We must not be influenced by [these provocations],” Kishida said. “Instead we have to get North Korea to understand that such behavior will not benefit anybody whatsoever.”
Fresh off meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, Kerry once again expressed confidence in Beijing’s willingness to pressure North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and calm tensions on the peninsula.
In a joint statement Saturday, both Kerry and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi reaffirmed U.S. and China’s commitment to work on the denuclearization of North Korea.
Yang said China was committed to restarting stalled six-party talks and holding North Korea accountable to its international agreements.
“What happened yesterday should not be underestimated and it is not a small event,” Kerry said. “What you have is a China that made it very clear that we can’t simply have a rhetorical policy. I agree with China. Question is, what steps do you take to make sure we don’t repeat the cycles of the last year.”
In North Korea, festivities continued for the upcoming 101th birthday celebration of founder Kim Il Sung Monday, with Pyongyang hosting an international marathon. But threats toward the outside world remained persistent denouncing South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s offer of dialogue as a “cunning ploy” and an “empty shell.”
“It is a cunning ploy to hide the South’s confrontational policy towards the North and escape from its responsibility for putting Kaesong Industrial Complex into a crisis,” an announcer read on North Korea’s Central TV.
The statement came from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, in charge of handling relations with South Korea.
Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint economic project using South Korean capital investment and the North’s cheap labor, was recently shut down after North Korea pulled out its 53,000 workers in light of a series of tension building measures in the past few weeks.
Pyongyang has strongly protested the ongoing U.S.-South Korea military exercises scheduled to wrap up at the end of this month.
Eager to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula, President Park offered peace through dialogue on Thursday, a surprise move that was widely welcomed by Kerry, who has repeatedly extended his support for bilateral talks, adding any missile launch would be a “huge mistake.”
“I think she’s shown great courage in her willingness to take [talks] in that direction, provided she has a willing partner,” Kerry said in Tokyo.
Analysts have speculated that North Korea may launch a mid-range Musudan missile sometime before the April 15 celebration.
But on Sunday, South Korean local media questioned why the North’s young leader Kim Jong-Un has not been seen in public over the past two weeks.
That’s prompted further speculations his absence may be a sign he “might be tempted to tone down fiery threats,” though others say it may be a sign Kim is posturing for the launch.
His last public appearance was on April 1, at the annual rubber-stamp parliamentary meeting. Kim is widely expected to show up in the military parade in Pyongyang on Monday.
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