MANILA - North Korea defended its nuclear program on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Manila on Monday, saying the United States was the reason for the worsening nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.
Speaking to reporters prior to the beginning of ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ARF spokesperson for North Korea, Bang Kwang Hyuk, reiterated North Korea would not place its nuclear and ballistic missiles program on the negotiation table.
Ministers from 26 other nations are seeking to discuss with North Korea its nuclear program, two days after the United Nations Security Council slammed it with a U.S.-drafted resolution sanctioning exports, aimed at pressuring Pyongyang to end its nuclear program.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, agreed to apply maximum pressure and sanctions on North Korea in a telephone call on Monday, while China expressed hope that North and South Korea could resume contact soon.
Envoys urge Pyongyang to change course
Asia-Pacific foreign ministers made plain to North Korea that it is high time that it stop taking actions posing threats to regional peace.
But North Korea's foreign minister said his country's missile nuclear is "legitimate and self-defensive."
"We will, under no circumstances, put the nuclear and ballistic missiles on the negotiating table...unless the hostile policy and the nuclear threat of the United States against (the North) are fundamentally eliminated," a North Korean official accompanying Ri Yong Ho quoted him as telling his counterparts in the closed-door meeting.
This year's ARF in Manila gave the ministers their first opportunity to discuss concerns about North Korea in person since it carried out its second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile about a week ago following the first on July 4.
The meeting of the 27-member security forum is one of the very few multilateral events attended regularly by North Korea, which has been trying to develop a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the U.S. mainland, despite a series of U.N. sanctions.
The members of the forum include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United States, the major players involved in global efforts to halt North Korea's weapons program, and the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, all of which have diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.
Almost all the top diplomats touched on the North Korean issue and demanded that the country abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions banning it from testing ballistic missile and nuclear technologies, according to a Japanese diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
While the international community has long failed to devise a means of reining in North Korea, Pyongyang has rapidly upgraded its arms capabilities, with its second ICBM, launched on July 28 in an unusual late-night test, flying as high as about 3,700 kilometers before it landed in the sea near Japan.
That was the highest altitude ever reached by a North Korean missile. Weapons analysts have said that if fired at a normal trajectory, it would have major U.S cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago within its range.
Sitting at the same roundtable together with his counterparts, Ri faced strong criticism from some of them over the country's series of various arms tests in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
A copy of a chairman's draft, seen by Kyodo News, said they were prepared to express "grave concern" and urge North Korea to immediately comply with its international obligations and exercise self-restraint for peace and stability in the world.
But Ri did not say anything strikingly different from what North Korea has been saying regarding its nuclear missile program.
The draft also shows what North Korea was planning to claim during the one-day meeting, namely that its nuclear program is "an act of self-defense against a hostile policy towards it."
Despite tougher sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council over the weekend, Ri, a top nuclear negotiator of North Korea before becoming foreign minister last year, dismissed the chorus of voices calling for Pyongyang to change course.
While North Korea dominated this year's discussions of the forum, as always, many of the top diplomats put forward their respective views on how best to defuse tensions and address territorial disputes in the South China Sea. - with reports from Kyodo News and Reuters