N. Korea launch ‘unfortunate’ and ‘destabilizing’ but path to dialogue open-U.S.

A man watches a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing a ballistic missile over Japan, at a railway station in Seoul on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia described North Korea’s firing of a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday as “unfortunate” and “destabilizing,” but said a path to dialogue remained open, while pledging to defend South Korea and Japan with all America’s power.

The missile fired on Tuesday flew over Japan for the first time in five years, prompting a warning for residents to take cover and a temporary suspension of train operations in northern Japan.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the State Department’s assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said that China needed to do more to fight sanctions evasion by North Korea in its coastal waters, and that Beijing and Russia should work to shut down Pyongyang’s procurement networks.

“We urge (North Korea) to take the path of dialogue, commit to serious and sustained diplomacy, and refrain from further destabilizing activities,” Kritenbrink said at an online event hosted by the Institute for Corean-American Studies shortly after the latest North Korean launch.

He said Washington remained open to dialogue with North Korea without preconditions.

“Unfortunately… the only response we have seen thus far is an increase in the number of ballistic missile launches and other provocative actions,” he said. “This is not a productive path forward, neither for North Korea or for any of us.”

Kritenbrink reiterated a U.S. assessment that a resumption of nuclear bomb testing by North Korea for the first time since 2017 was most likely only awaiting a political decision. He said such a “dangerous” act would represent “a grave escalation that would seriously threaten regional and international stability and security.”

“It is in the international community’s best interest to ensure the DPRK knows that such an action will be met by unanimous condemnation, that the only path towards long term peace and stability is to negotiations,” he said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name.

He was sharply critical of China and Russia and said persuading North Korea to denuclearize ought to be an area of cooperation with U.S. strategic rival China.

“The failure of the PRC and Russia to fully and completely fulfill their obligations … has only, we fear, emboldened the DPRK in undermining the U.N. Security Council, the international rules-based order and global non-proliferation regime,” he said.

Kritenbrink said the United States would “take all necessary measures, involving all elements of American national power” to defend treaty allies South Korea and Japan.

He said that while leaving the door open to dialogue Washington would “respond resolutely” to the growing threat posed by North Korea.

“We have no other choice but to do so,” he said. “I don’t think anyone should doubt our result in terms of pursuing sanctions and other authority to impose a cost on these actions.”

Decades of U.S.-led sanctions have failed to stem North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear bomb programs and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown no interest in returning a failed path of diplomacy he pursued with U.S. President Donald Trump.