• US to build pressure on NKorea in Manila talks

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    North Korea is set to face a diplomatic barrage over its nuclear weapons program at a security forum in Manila starting this weekend, with the United States seeking to build a “chorus of condemnation.”

    A policeman walks past various national flags at the venue of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in Manila. AFP Photo

    Foreign ministers from all the major powers involved in trying to curtail North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s atomic ambitions will be in the Philippine capital for the event, offering a rare chance for face-to-face talks on the crisis.

    The United States and China have been wrestling with how best to respond to North Korea’s second intercontinental ballistic missile test last week, which deepened global fears over Kim’s nuclear weapons strike capabilities.

    US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will seek to build diplomatic pressure on the North in Manila, with Washington pushing for another round of tough United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang, according to one of his top aides.

    “What we would expect to see this year at the meeting would be a general chorus of condemnation of North Korea’s provocative behavior,” Susan Thornton, the acting US assistant secretary of state, told reporters in Washington.

    The annual forum, hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), brings together the top diplomats from 26 countries and the European Union for talks on political and security issues in Asia-Pacific.

    This year they will express “grave concern” over North Korea’s missile tests, according to a draft copy of the chairman’s statement obtained by AFP.

    Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also set the stage for the talks on Wednesday with a blistering critique of Kim.

    The draft of the chairman’s statement flagged the North, to be represented by Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho, will offer a typically defiant response to the diplomatic pressure.

    “The DPRK (North Korea) claimed during the meeting that its nuclear weapons program is an act of self-defense against a hostile policy towards it,” said the statement, which is due to be released at the end of the meeting on Monday.

    Tillerson will not hold direct talks with Ri in Manila, according to Thornton.

    But Tillerson is expected to meet with the top envoys from the other nations in stalled “six-party” negotiations aimed at reining in Pyongyang’s nuclear program: China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

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