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(News Focus) N. Korea doubles down on push for nukes and attack on U.S. amid isolation

All News 03:39 July 27, 2016

By Koh Byung-joon

VIENTIANE, Laos, July 27 (Yonhap) -- Against its deepening isolation from the international community, North Korea seems to have chosen to double down on its push for nuclear weapons, while blaming the U.S. and South Korea for what it sees as "worsening situations" on the peninsula, observers said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho held a press conference on the sidelines of a regional security gathering where he argued the North has to stay alert, citing heightened pressure on Pyongyang both militarily and economically.

Ri came to Laos on Sunday to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum, a rare international security consultation attended by North Korea and other member countries of the long-halted six-party talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear program. ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

He said that his trip to Laos is aimed at letting other countries know the current situation on the peninsula and drumming up their cooperation.

"In a nutshell, my purpose is to draw global attention to what is happening on the Korean Peninsula," Ri said. "Current situations could turn for the gravely worse."

He singled out the U.S. for making the situation worse and cited what it called military pressure and increased nuclear threats.

"It is the U.S.' hostile policy that is making the current situations worse," Ri said. "The problem is that its hostile policy is getting severe and the prime example can be found in the increased military pressure and nuclear threats."

"Another can be found in its economic isolation policy aimed at restricting our economic development. Recently, this has come to the point where (the U.S) carried out the biggest hostile act by insulting our 'greatest dignity' by taking issue with the so-called human rights," he added.

He apparently referred to the U.S. move on July 7 to impose sanctions on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over human rights abuses in an unprecedented, highly symbolic measure underscoring Washington's determination to drive up pressure on Pyongyang.

This is in addition to the toughened sanctions the U.S. imposed on the North for nuclear and missile tests earlier this year.

This year's ARF comes amid heightened tensions caused by the North's fourth nuclear test in January, followed by repeated launches of ballistic missiles in the following months. Adding to that have been mounting concerns that the North might be preparing for a fifth nuclear test.

"Our stance on nuclear weapons is clear. We, as a responsible nuclear state, will not use them as long as we are not threatened," he said.

Ri, who took office as the North's top diplomat in May, made the most of a rift between China and South Korea.

On Monday, he held bilateral talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the first ARF meeting between the two in two years. They didn't have talks during the previous ASEAN gathering in Malaysia last year.

The meeting came as China is moving to forge better ties with Pyongyang after its relations with South Korea soured with the South's decision to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system.

The rift was highlighted further when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang said in talks with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, that the foundation of trust has been hurt due to Seoul's joint decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

Beijing has objected to its deployment on worries that it could undermine its security. Seoul has said that it is solely aimed at countering threats from the North.

With regard to THAAD, Ri called it the "U.S.' key strategic asset," saying that this raises "serious concerns" that make it necessary for the North to stay alert and militarily ready.


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