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North Korea ‘not even close’ to meeting standards on nuclear weapons, says Kerry

(The Guardian)…The US is talking to China about imposing further sanctions against North Koreaas the reclusive country is “not even close” to taking steps to rein in its nuclear weapons programme, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, has said.

Speaking on Monday in the South Korean capital, Kerry said Washington continued to offer North Korea the chance for an improved relationship in return for signs of a genuine willingness to end its nuclear programme.

“To date, to this moment, particularly with recent provocations, it is clear the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is not even close to meeting that standard,” Kerry told a joint news conference with the South Korean foreign minister, Yun Byung-se. “Instead it continues to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.”

North Korea is already under heavy US and UN sanctions for its missile and nuclear tests but Kerry said further penalties were being considered.

“I think never has the international community been as united as we are now, that, number one North Korea needs to denuclearise,” Kerry said, adding a pending nuclear deal with Iran could serve as an example to North Korea.

“With respect to the methodology for boosting sanctions and other things, we [the United States and China] are discussing all of that now. China has obviously an extraordinary leverage.

“We will have security and economic dialogue with the Chinese in Washington in June and that will be the moment where we will table some of these specific steps.”

Hong Lei, spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, declined to comment on Kerry’s remarks. China has a history of resisting tough moves against North Korea that have not been passed by resolutions of the UN security council, on which it sits with veto power.

Hong, at a daily news briefing, merely reiterated China’s calls for denuclearisation of the whole Korean peninsula.

In 2005, Pyongyang walked away from a deal with the US, Russia, South Koreaand China to end its nuclear programme in return for diplomatic and economic rewards.

It recently tested what it said was a submarine-launched ballistic missile, raising regional tensions about the prospect of a heightened threat that already includes nuclear arms development and an arsenal of ballistic missiles.

North Korea is technically still at war with the South after the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, and regularly threatens to destroy the South’s major ally, the US.

Kerry also said it was likely that the North would be referred to the international criminal court because of human rights violations, and singled out the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as responsible for continued rights violations.

He said Kim’s leadership was “one of the most egregious examples of reckless disregard for human rights and human beings anywhere on the planet,” citing what he called “grotesque, grisly, horrendous public displays of executions on a whim and a fancy by the leader”.

South Korea’s spy agency said last week that the North’s defence chief had been executed with anti-aircraft fire which, if confirmed, would be the latest in a series of high-level purges since Kim took charge in 2011.

The UN general assembly has recommended that the North be referred to the tribunal for crimes against humanity after a UN inquiry detailed abuses in the country including prison camps and use of torture.

Diplomats say China is likely to veto any such bid.

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