Apr 18, 2:17 AM EDT

US VP Pence assures Japan America is with ally '100 percent'


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AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

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TOKYO (AP) -- In a trip dominated by concerns about North Korea's nuclear intentions, Vice President Mike Pence assured Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday that the United States is ready to work closely with its Asian allies in the region to achieve "a peaceable resolution and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

"We appreciate the challenging times in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocations from across the Sea of Japan," Pence said after arriving from Seoul for talks with Abe. "We are with you 100 percent," the visiting vice president said. President Donald Trump earlier warned that North Korean President Jong Un has "gotta behave."

At the outset of their meeting, Pence reiterated to Abe his statement in South Korea that the United States has run out of patience with Pyongyang's moves.

"While all options are on the table," Pence said, "President Trump is determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region, and with China" to resolve the problem.

"We seek peace always as a country, as does Japan, but as you know and the United States knows, peace comes through strength and we will stand strongly with Japan and strongly with our allies for a peace and security in this region," Pence added.

Said Abe: "It goes without saying that it is a matter of paramount importance for us to seek diplomatic efforts as well peaceable settlements of the issue."

"But at the same time," the prime minister said, "dialogue for the sake of dialogue is valueless and it is necessary for us to exercise pressure North Korea so that it comes forward and engages in this serious dialogue."

Trump, in Washington, and Pence at the tense Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea earlier, have signaled a forceful U.S. stance on North Korea's recent actions and threats. But no one was predicting what might come next.

Behind the heated rhetoric, in fact, Trump's strategy in the region looks somewhat similar to predecessor Barack Obama's - albeit with the added unpredictability of a new president who has shown he's willing to use force.

Pence on Monday had traveled to the tense zone dividing North and South Korea, where he warned North Korea's leaders that after years of testing the U.S. and South Korea with its nuclear ambitions, "the era of strategic patience is over."

The unannounced visit at the start of his 10-day trip to Asia was a U.S. show of force that allowed the vice president to gaze at North Korean soldiers from afar and stare directly across a border marked by razor wire. As the brown bomber jacket-clad vice president was briefed near the military demarcation line, two North Korean soldiers watched from a short distance away, one taking multiple photographs of the American visitor.

Pence told reporters near the Demilitarized Zone on Monday that Trump was hopeful China would use its "extraordinary levers" to pressure the North to abandon its weapons program, a day after the North's failed missile test launch. But Pence expressed impatience with the unwillingness of the regime to move toward ridding itself of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters he hopes "there will be no unilateral actions like those we saw recently in Syria and that the U.S. will follow the line that President Trump repeatedly voiced during the election campaign."

For its part, China made a plea for a return to negotiations. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said tensions need to be eased on the Korean Peninsula to bring the escalating dispute there to a peaceful resolution. Lu said Beijing wants to resume the multi-party negotiations that ended in stalemate in 2009 and suggested that U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in South Korea were damaging its relations with China.

Pence's Asia tour came amid increasing tensions and heated rhetoric on the Korean Peninsula. While the North did not conduct a nuclear test, the specter of a potential test and an escalated U.S. response has trailed Pence as he undertakes his Asian tour.

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Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KThomasDC

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