US aims to rally Asean against North Korea

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US makes call to South-east Asian countries ahead of regional meeting in Manila

The United States is pressing South-east Asian countries to "downgrade diplomatic engagements and exchanges" with North Korea as it seeks to build a "chorus of condemnation" ahead of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila.

US Embassy spokesman Molly Koscina said in a statement yesterday: "We continue to encourage all countries, including Asean members, to downgrade diplomatic engagements or exchanges with (North Korea)."

Ms Koscina said the US is hoping top diplomats from Asean and major powers "will use the Asean Regional Forum" to highlight North Korea's "unacceptable" behaviour and get it to cease its unlawful actions when they meet on Monday.

The US and China have been wrestling with how best to respond to North Korea's two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests, which deepened global fears that the missiles would be able to strike the US mainland.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will seek to build diplomatic pressure on North Korea in Manila, while the US pushes for another round of tough sanctions at the United Nations, according to one of his top aides.

Acting US Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton told reporters in Washington: "What we would expect to see this year at the (ARF) meeting would be a general chorus of condemnation of North Korea's provocative behaviour."

The annual forum, hosted by the Philippines this year, brings together 27 members, including the US, China, Japan, Russia, the two Koreas and the European Union.

We also call on all parties not to take any actions that will lead to an escalation in tensions.China Foreign Minister Wang Yi

Members will tell North Korea face to face about their "grave concern", according to a draft copy of the chairman's statement.

Ms Thornton said Mr Tillerson will not hold talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, who will be attending the event.

In Beijing, Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged all parties not to heighten tensions on the Korean peninsula.

He also said China "attached great importance" to Mr Tillerson's comments this week that the US does not seek to topple North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and that dialogue with Pyongyang may come at some point.

Noting that China had already clearly condemned North Korea's latest ICBM test last week, he added: "We also call on all parties not to take any actions that will lead to an escalation in tensions."

A Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman said Asean is hoping "to find some sort of grounds for proceeding to more productive, cooperative dialogue".

On suggestions to push North Korea out of the ARF, he said: "If (North Korea) wants to exit, there are no hard and fast rules to prevent it. But as a forum, there are no rules for us to determine if this participating country should exit the forum."

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