SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. allies said on Wednesday that enforcing international sanctions on North Korea, and not mere dialogue, was the key to getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
U.S. President Donald Trump, in a speech on Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly of world leaders, said he would “totally destroy” North Korea if threatened and mocked its leader Kim Jong Un as a “rocket man” for his repeated ballistic missile tests.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said ensuring the effectiveness of U.N. sanctions on North Korea was “the right answer” and assailed Trump’s warning of military action.
“I am against such threats,” she told the Deutsche Welle broadcaster when asked about Trump’s remarks. “We consider any form of military solution as totally inappropriate and we insist on a diplomatic solution.”
North Korea’s neighbours South Korea and Japan said the time for negotiating with Pyongyang was over and that the key now was for U.N. sanctions to have the desired effect.
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously imposed nine rounds of sanctions on North Korea since 2006, the latest this month over Pyongyang’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test.
“Now is not the time for dialogue. Now is the time to apply pressure,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in New York for the General Assembly, told a gathering of investors at the New York Stock Exchange.
“We can’t be satisfied that the U.N. has approved new sanctions against North Korea,” Abe said. “What’s crucial now is to put sanctions into effect without lapses and that requires close cooperation with China and Russia.”
Japan, which Pyongyang often threatens to destroy, has consistently pushed for pressure on North Korea. A few days after the U.N. stepped up sanctions on Sept. 11, North Korea fired a missile that flew over northern Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean, according to Japanese and South Korean officials.
South Korea said Trump’s speech showed a “firm and specific stance.”
“It clearly showed how seriously the United States government views North Korea’s nuclear programme as the president spent an unusual amount of time discussing the issue,” the office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a statement.
Trump’s speech “reaffirmed that North Korea should be made to realize denuclearisation is the only way to the future through utmost sanctions and pressure”, it added.
Moon came to power in May on a platform of more engagement with North Korea. Since Pyongyang’s sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3, however, Moon has said the time is not right for dialogue.
The United States has urged China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, and Russia to do more to rein in Kim.
China’s Foreign Ministry, asked to respond to Trump’s comments, said U.N. resolutions made clear the Korean peninsula issue should be resolved through political and diplomatic means.
North Korea, which has conducted more than 80 missile tests under third-generation leader Kim, says it needs its weapons to protect itself from U.S. aggression. South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told an Air Force event on Wednesday that the effort to deal with Pyongyang was still diplomatically-led even as he acknowledged the “sombre reality” that the Pentagon needed to have military options at the ready.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told CBS News the United States had lots of military options on North Korea that stop short of destroying the country.
“No one wants war, the president doesn’t want war. We have tried to do this through dialogue, we have tried to do this through sanctions, we have tried every diplomatic measure that we possibly can. We’re not giving up on diplomatic efforts,” she said.
Reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason at the UNITED NATIONS, Phil Stewart and Susan Heavey in Washington, and Michael Martina and Philip Wen in BEIJING; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Chizu Nomiyama; Editing by Grant McCool and Howard Goller