March 16, 2017 10:12:53 AM
TOKYO -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on North Korea Thursday to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, saying the isolated nation "need not fear" the United States.
Tillerson made that declaration after meeting his Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, where they discussed possible new approaches in dealing with Pyongyang.
He said 20 years of U.S. diplomatic and other efforts to get North Korea to denuclearize have failed, but gave no specifics about how the Trump administration, which is currently doing a policy review, would tackle the issue. Tillerson described the weapons programs as "dangerous and unlawful."
The former Exxon Mobil CEO is making his first trip to Asia as the top U.S. diplomat. Tensions are running high on the divided Korean Peninsula, and North Korea last week launched four missiles into seas off Japan and where the U.S. is currently conducting annual military drills with South Korea. Pyongyang views this as a rehearsal for invasion.
"North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea," the secretary of state told a news conference in Tokyo.
"With this in mind, the United States calls on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and refrain from any further provocation."
He was due to meet later Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Citing recent North Korean missile launches, Tillerson said that "in the face of this ever-escalating threat it is clear that a different approach is required." He said his trip was intended to get input from other governments. Tillerson will travel Friday to South Korea and then China on Saturday.
Both Tillerson and Kishida urged China use its economic leverage with North Korea to push it to change course.
During last year's election campaign, presidential candidate Donald Trump called into question U.S. security alliances and called for Tokyo and Seoul to contribute more for their defense. Tillerson, however, stressed that cooperation with Japan and South Korea was "critical."
Kishida said the U.S. and Japan had an "unwavering bond."
Japan and South Korea both host tens of thousands of U.S. troops. Washington has been urging the two nations to step security up cooperation despite their historically strained relations. This week, the nations' three navies have conducted missile defense information-sharing drills in the region.
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