Russian FM suggests Pyongyang and Washington sign up to a joint Russian-Chinese plan to freeze the North's missile tests and stop US-S Korean military exercises.

In this file picture, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens during a press  conference.
In this file picture, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens during a press conference.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday the risks of a military conflict over North Korea's nuclear programme are very high, and Moscow is deeply worried by the mutual threats being traded by Washington and Pyongyang.

"Unfortunately, the rhetoric in Washington and Pyongyang is now starting to go over the top," Lavrov said. "We still hope and believe that common sense will prevail."

Asked at a forum for Russian students about the risks of the standoff escalating into armed conflict, he said: "The risks are very high, especially taking into account the rhetoric."

"Direct threats of using force are heard ... The talk (in Washington) is that there must be a preventive strike made on North Korea, while Pyongyang is threatening to carry out a missile strike on the US base in Guam. These (threats) continue non-stop, and they worry us a lot."

"I won't get into guessing what happens 'if'. We will do whatever we can to prevent this 'if'."

""My personal opinion is that when you get close to the point of a fight breaking out, the side that is stronger and cleverer should take the first step away from the threshold of danger," said Lavrov, in remarks broadcast on state television.

China-Russia plan

He encouraged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a joint Russian-Chinese plan, under which North Korea would freeze its missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises.

"If this double freezing finally takes place, then we can sit down and start from the very beginning – to sign a paper which will stress respect for the sovereignty of all those parties involved, including North Korea," Lavrov said.

As Lavrov made the announcement the Pentagon announced that a planned joint-military exercise with South Korean forces would go ahead as planned.

Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan said that the exercise Ulchi-Freedom Guardian would start on August 21.

Trump ratcheted up the war of words, issuing another warning to North Korea on Friday.

"Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!" Trump wrote on Twitter, a day after his defense secretary said the United States was ready to counter any threat from Pyongyang.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is no military solution to the dispute, adding that "an escalation of the rhetoric is the wrong answer."

"I see the need for enduring work at the U.N. Security Council ... as well as tight cooperation between the countries involved, especially the U.S. and China," Merkel told reporters in Berlin.

Blaming Trump

The Republican president's tweet came shortly after the North Korean state news agency, KCNA, put out a statement blaming him for the boiling tensions.

"Trump is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war, making such outcries as 'the U.S. will not rule out a war against the DPRK (North Korea),'" KCNA said.

A senior US diplomat has engaged in back-channel diplomacy with North Korea for several months, addressing the deteriorating relations, as well as the issue of Americans imprisoned in North Korea, the Associated Press reported.

The contacts are being held regularly between Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea policy, and Pak Song Il, a senior North Korean diplomat at Pyongyang's UN mission, according to US officials and others briefed on the process cited by the AP.

The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Source: Reuters