Skip to main content

Kerry visits South Korea amid North Korea's nuclear threats

From Jill Dougherty, CNN
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Fri April 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The United States will defend itself and its allies if needed, Kerry says
  • Kerry's Asia trip will include visits to China and Japan
  • His three host nations all have new leaders

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the United States is prepared to enter into talks with North Korea, but only if it is serious about negotiating the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

Kerry is in Seoul meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se amid heightened tensions spurred by North Korea's recent nuclear threats and provocations.

He landed in Seoul, about 30 miles from the demilitarized zone separating the two countries. The Korean peninsula is rife with tensions over the belligerent threats issued by Pyongyang.

The United States will defend itself and its allies if needed, Kerry said.

"North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power," he said at a news conference with Yun. "The rhetoric that we are hearing is simply unacceptable."

Kerry: North Korea threats unacceptable
Is N. Korea a nuclear threat or not?
Propaganda as news in North Korea
Intel: N. Korea could launch nuke attack

Pentagon intelligence assessment suggesting North Korea may have the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon on a missile has set off a flurry in Washington, with top officials trying to play down concerns about the capabilities of the Pyongyang regime.

The Pentagon's intelligence arm has assessed with "moderate confidence" that North Korea has the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon with a ballistic missile, though the reliability is believed to be "low."

First disclosed by a congressman at a hearing Thursday and then confirmed to CNN by the Defense Department, the assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency is the clearest acknowledgment yet by the United States about potential advances in North Korea's nuclear program.

Will Kim Jong Un listen to China?

The United States calculates that a test launch of mobile ballistic missiles could come at any time. But a senior administration official said there is no indication that missiles that North Korea is believed to be readying for tests have been armed with any nuclear material.

The surprising development comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has unleashed a torrent of dramatic threats against the United States and South Korea in recent weeks, including that of a possible nuclear strike.

Kerry's Asia trip will include visits to China and Japan. The tour comes at a time when all three countries have new leaders.

The North Korea we rearely see

It's the first time the Obama administration is engaging with all three countries in the same trip, the State Department said.

The top U.S. diplomat's trip comes days after he warned the North on what he calls leader Kim Jong Un's "provocative ... dangerous, reckless" rhetoric and actions.

China, U.S. officials say, is growing more concerned about the North's provocations, but it also is closely watching Washington's latest military moves in the region.

Report sparks intel controversy

Kerry will try to convince leaders in Beijing that Pyongyang is "putting China's own interests at risk," a senior administration official said.

Pyongyang's provocations are the immediate threat, but the Obama administration's "pivot to Asia" has broader strategic implications for Beijing.

Throughout his Asia swing, Kerry will have to balance his short-term and long-term diplomatic objectives.

"Secretary Kerry can reassure regional states that, as a Pacific century dawns, the United States will continue to be right in the middle of it and will not allow any power to edge the United States out of a region where nearly every country welcomes its leadership," said Daniel Twining, the German Marshall Fund's senior fellow for Asia.

"He should also make clear that the United States will not countenance aggression against any territory covered by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and commit to working closely with Japan to meet security challenges across Asia, starting with North Korea."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
Experts warn that under Kim Jong Un's rule, Pyongyang has shown an even greater willingness to raise the stakes than before.
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
China and North Korea criticize a U.N. report that found crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Mon March 17, 2014
Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was abducted by a North Korean agent in the 1970s. What happened after that?
updated 12:30 AM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Report: North Korea uses multiple techniques to defy sanctions, and shows no signs of abandoning its nuclear missile programs.
updated 3:17 AM EST, Fri February 21, 2014
Families torn apart for more than 60 years -- separated by the Korean War -- began to reunite at a mountain resort in North Korea Thursday.
updated 6:50 AM EST, Tue February 18, 2014
A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state, the UN reported.
updated 11:31 PM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
Former prisoners in North Korea describe horrific stories of being tortured by authorities.
updated 10:27 AM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
Skiing is not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the isolated nation, but North Korea's ski resort is world class.
updated 10:15 PM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
American Kenneth Bae, who is being held in North Korea, has been moved from a hospital to a labor camp.
updated 9:13 PM EST, Tue January 7, 2014
Why is he being held by North Korea in a prison camp? These are the questions for many since his arrest in the isolated country in 2012.
updated 3:18 AM EST, Mon January 27, 2014
The first time the South Korean factory owner watched his North Korean employees nibble on a Choco Pie, they appeared shocked.
updated 8:26 PM EST, Tue January 7, 2014
Dennis Rodman's "Big Bang in Pyongyang" may be in a league of its own, but other stars too have mixed with repressive regimes before.
updated 1:00 PM EST, Thu December 19, 2013
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrives in North Korea to train basketball players, state-run media reports.
updated 9:50 PM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
The nation held a memorial in the honor of former North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il on the second anniversary of his death.
updated 10:58 AM EST, Fri December 13, 2013
Days after he was removed from his powerful military post, Jang Song Thaek was called a traitor and executed.
ADVERTISEMENT