US steps up military pressure on North Korea

Beijing, Feb 9 (IANS) The US is leading a drive to exert military pressure on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s satellite launch which could escalate regional tension.

US defence officials on Monday said Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would meet his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Hawaii this week to discuss Pyongyang’s launch, Xinhua reported.

Lee Sun-jin, South Korean Army General and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Katsutoshi Kawano, head of Japan’s Self-Defence Forces, would participate in the meeting, which was scheduled after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on January 6.

Moreover, the US and South Korea have begun negotiations on the deployment of Lockheed Martin’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile defence system to the Korean peninsula in response to Pyongyang launch on Sunday, the Pentagon said separately on Monday.

“The goal of the formal consultations is to bilaterally explore the feasibility of THAAD deploying to and operating on the Korean peninsula at the earliest possible date,” Peter Cook, spokesman for the US Department of Defence, said.

Cook stressed the negotiations underscored the “ironclad” commitment of the US to defend South Korea and would be “focused solely” on North Korea.

China, as a key regional stakeholder, has expressed deep concerns over the proposed THAAD deployment, which it says could worsen the already fragile situation in Northeast Asia.

“China holds a consistent and clear stance on the anti-missile issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Sunday.

“When pursuing its own security, one country should not impair others’ security interests.”

Pyongyang on Sunday said it had successfully launched a Kwangmyongsong-4 Earth observation satellite into orbit in less than 10 minutes after the liftoff at 9.00 a.m. (local time).

The launch, which took place about a month after Pyongyang claimed it had successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb, caused serious concern around the world and may lead to further sanctions against North Korea.

The country is banned from rocket launches using any ballistic missile technologies, according to multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

The UN Security Council on Sunday strongly condemned the latest launch, calling it a serious violation of its resolutions.

The Council members restated their intent to develop significant measures in a new resolution in response to North Korea’s nuclear test on January 6.

They are also expected to adopt such a resolution expeditiously in line with the gravity of this most recent violation.

South Korea on Sunday strongly denounced North Korea’s launch, describing it as an “extreme provocative act” that runs counter to the international community’s wish for peace, according to a statement issued by the South Korean presidential office.

The statement noted that the only way of making Pyongyang give up its nuclear ambition is to draft strong and effective sanctions against it, including UN Security Council resolutions, in cooperation with the international community.

The US said the launch represents “another destabilising and provocative action” and is “a flagrant violation” of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Monday said allies of the United States agree that an “impactful response” is needed.

“That means considering a range of economic sanctions that would further isolate North Korea,” Earnest said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday reiterated his denouncement of the launch, adding that Japan would take “resolute measures” such as the imminent strengthening of its own sanctions against Pyongyang.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday said swift actions were necessary from the UN Security Council, and that Tokyo would “further strengthen cooperation with related countries such as the United States and South Korea to that end.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday once again condemned the launch, but warned against any unilateral move that could “lead to further development of tensions in the region.”

China expressed regrets on Sunday morning shortly after the launch, urging all sides concerned to “remain calm, act cautiously, avoid taking moves that could further increase tensions on the peninsula.”

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