US, Japanese and South Korean envoys met on Wednesday in Seoul and agreed on stepping up pressure over North Korea’s long-disputed nuclear programme which has been perceived as a major threat by the respective countries in the recent years.
The parties highlighted the need for more pressure on North Korea to dissuade its nuclear activities and indicated new sanctions unless Pyongyang returns to the long-stalled six-party talks which aimed to find a diplomatic solution to the issue.
"North Korea will face growing international pressure if it continues rejecting talks and keeps developing nuclear weapons and missiles...I once again urge North Korea to engage in discussions in a sincere manner," Hwang Joon-kook, South Korean Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs told reporters.
The trilateral meeting was held following the North Korea’s claims of test-firing of submarine-launched ballistic missiles which it tested early this month and of having small nuclear warhead enough to be mounted on a long-range missile.
"We agreed on the importance of enhancing pressure and sanctions on North Korea even as we keep all our diplomatic options on the table and open," the US special representative for North Korea policy, Sung Kim, also told reporters.
The US chief envoy called China to convince North Korea to return to the table and asked Beijing’s support for non-proliferation efforts in and around East Asia.
"I think the Chinese understand that as chair of the six-party process they have a special responsibility to get the North Koreans to work with us towards denuclearisation," Sung Kim added.
Japan, South Korea and the US are the members of the negotiation table with North Korea together with China and Russia which have been backing so far North Korea’s international position.
China has transferred nuclear technologies to North Korea when the country was divided after the Korean War of 1950-52 and aligned itself with the Soviet-Chinese communist bloc during the Cold War era.
The six-member diplomatic table had stalled on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme in early 2009 and also interrupted with the death of Kim Jong-il, the father of current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Pyongyang is one of the nine nuclear-armed nations and among the four countries which have never signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
The nuclear threat posed by North Korea has been worrying South Korea and its Pacific allies like the US and Japan, which agreed to increase close cooperation in Asia-Pacific security issues when the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the US President Barack Obama last month in Washington.
The South Korea’s government called its National Assembly for an urgent meeting earlier this month to discuss North Korea’s recent underwater test-fires of ballistic missiles and asked the North to terminate all nuclear activities that endanger the Peninsula’s fragile security.
Previously, North Korea had exercised tests of ballistic missiles, but the recent one raised the South’s concerns since it was fired from submarines.
Pyongyang was believed to have been developing missile technologies under the autocratic leadership of Kim Jong-un, but it had only tested missiles on land and sea platforms.
North Korea is supposedly to have 70 to 90 submarines, all of which are scraped Soviet-era vessels.
Most of them are limited in ability and cannot be equipped with ballistic missiles, but the North’s new generation submarines are able to carry at least three missiles with warheads.
North Korea’s new submarines, capable of carrying ballistic missiles and deployed at the end of last year, signalled another step forward in the development of nuclear weapons in the greater Asia-Pacific region.
Many experts and analysts believe that North Korea has remarkably advanced its nuclear capabilities since the six-party talks were broken.
South Korean authorities remarked the upcoming military threat as the tension gradually increases with the North.
Seoul intended to spend about 8 billion dollars over five years in order to cope with the North Korea’s missile threats starting from 2016 onwards.
North Korea’s nuclear programme and security challenges posed in the region will be discussed next month when the South Korean President Park Geun-hye meets with US President Obama in Washington.