Secretary of State John F. Kerry will focus heavily on the threat posed by a nuclear armed North Korea during his upcoming diplomatic visit to Asia, particularly in meetings with Chinese leaders, the State Department said Monday.
While State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stopped short of saying that Mr. Kerry intends to push Beijing to take a more aggressive posture toward North Korea, she said U.S. officials are looking for “ways to increase the pressure” on Pyongyang.
“Beijing has the most leverage, given their intensive trade relationship” with North Korea, Mrs. Nuland said.
The U.S. foreign policy community has been increasingly on edge over North Korea since Pyongyang conducted a ballistic missile test last December and then a nuclear test last month.
On March 5, a former senior U.S. intelligence official told Congress that China may hold the key to pressuring North Korea into abandoning its nuclear program.
“China is an ally of a North Korea that needs China’s economic assistance,” said Joseph R. DeTrani, who served as the U.S. intelligence community’s top official on North Korea from 2010 through last year.
While multi-party diplomatic talks between regional powers and North Korea have foundered in recent years, Mr. DeTrani told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that China may be able to “help convince the leadership in Pyongyang that the current escalatory path North Korea is pursuing will be disastrous.”
North Korea’s missile test and subsequent nuclear test have coincided with a steady uptick in belligerent rhetoric toward South Korea from officials in North Korea, where leader Kim Jong Un, in his late 20s, is the youngest head of a nuclear-armed state.
Mr. Kerry is slated to travel to South Korea, China and Japan for three days of talks starting April 12. He is also scheduled for talks in Washington on Tuesday with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se, a meeting likely to focus on the North Korea tensions.