Australian Foreign and Defense Minister Visits Korean Border

John Kim, Oct. 12, 2017, 7:55 a.m.

Australia's foreign and defense ministers visited the heavily fortified inter-Korean border Thursday and emphasized the need to inflict "maximum diplomatic pressure" to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambition. "The focus of the efforts of the U.S., South Korea, Australia and others are to ensure that maximum political, diplomatic, economic pressure is placed on North Korea so that is changes its course," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Bishop and Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne are in South Korea to hold the third round of the so-called "two-plus-two" talks with their South Korean counterparts Friday. "In my discussion with Secretary (Rex) Tillerson and Foreign Minister Kang (Kyung-wha), the aim was to ensure a peaceful negotiated outcome to the current tensions," the Aussie foreign minister said after being asked about how likely it was the countries would use military options against North Korea.

"North Korean actions are illegal, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions and Australia will play our part in supporting South Korea and allies in deterring North Korea from further provocative acts and compelling it to return to the negotiating table," Bishop noted. "Australia stands with South Korea in solidarity against provocative, illegal behavior of North Korea."

Still, Australia supports the U.S. policy of having military options on the table, the defense minister noted. "Our prime minister has made very clear our support for the U.S. (policy), but more importantly, our support is for regional stability and security," Payne said.

Australia's recent denial of entry for North Korean soccer players is also in line with the stance, the foreign minister said, referring to her decision not to issue visas for a North Korean soccer team seeking to participate in next month's qualifying matches for the Asian Football Confederation under-19 championships, originally set to take place in the country.

"I made the decision ... because I felt that the presence will be inconsistent with Australia's stated aim of placing maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea," Bishop said. "It is also consistent with the view of many other members of the international community to lessen, reduce or completely diminish any diplomatic relationship with North Korea."

 Australia expects North Korea will continue with its provocative behavior in the near future, "but the stronger the international community's response is ... the less options North Korea would have," she also said. The defense minister announced, meanwhile, that a group of Australian military forces will soon arrive in South Korea as part of its Indo-Pacific defense activities. "In this region, we currently have a joint task group which is traveling through ... the region," she said. Most recently, the group went to the Philippines, "but in due course the main vessels of the joint task group will also join South Korea. We look forward that engagement."

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