Russia warns against conditions for N Korea talks

MOSCOW – Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov on Saturday warned of a risk of escalation after Washington toughened its stance on North Korea nuclear talks and US President Donald Trump accused Moscow of failing to help.

“It’s sad that this powerful element of demands for further pressure on Pyongyang has once again appeared in the American position,” Ryabkov told RIA Novosti news agency.

“It’s high time to stop this race of threats, pressure, blackmail and presentation of preconditions and shift to a real search for a political solution,” Ryabkov said.

He said that now both Pyongyang and Washington are now putting forward preconditions for talks and there is a “risk of uncontrolled escalation”.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday at the United Nations Security Council backed away from an earlier offer of unconditional talks to end the stand-off with Pyongyang, apparently under White House pressure.

Trump on Friday complained that “Russia is not helping” to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons programme. Ryabkov said that “after the UN Security Council session and speeches by senior representatives of Western countries, we got the impression that the logic of pressure is the dominant one in their approach”. He warned that the current situation is “extremely dangerous”.

“We wouldn’t like to end up in a situation where despite all the efforts by Russia and North Korea and by our two countries jointly, yet another spiral of confrontation begins.”

Moscow had close ties with its far eastern neighbour during the Soviet era when the countries shared Communist ideology and they still have relatively warm relations. Both Pyongyang’s chief ally China and Russia argue that sanctions alone will not compel North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to change course and want to step up diplomatic efforts to achieve a solution. Ryabkov called for “openness and dialogue from both Pyongyang and Washington, mutual restraint and an aim to work out a starting point for a diplomatic step forward”.

Japan eyes $46b defence

budget to counter N Korea

Japan plans a record $46 billion defence budget for the next fiscal year to strengthen its missile defence against the threat posed by North Korea, a report said Saturday.

The government is expected to set aside 5.19 trillion yen for defence in the country’s initial budget proposal for the fiscal year starting April 2018, the Nikkei daily said.

It will mark the sixth straight year of increases in defence outlays, topping the 5.12 trillion yen budget for the current fiscal year, the business daily said.

Much of the increase will go on protecting Japan against North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development, the newspaper said.

The extra funding will cover the cost of preparations for introducing the US military’s Aegis Ashore land-based missile interceptor system, the Nikkei said.

Last week Japan’s defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, said the country plans to purchase long-range cruise missiles with a range of some 900 kilometres (560 miles) from US firms.

The move is controversial as Japan’s pacifist constitution bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes. Global anxiety about North Korea has steadily risen this year, with Washington calling on other UN members to cut ties with Pyongyang in order to squeeze the secretive regime.

The call, however, has fallen short of persuading key North Korean backers China and Russia to take steps to isolate the regime.

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