Neutral Switzerland offers to mediate North Korea crisis, Swiss president says

Neutral Switzerland is prepared to act as mediator to help resolve the North Korea crisis, including by hosting ministerial talks, Swiss President Doris Leuthard said Monday.

Leuthard said Swiss troops were deployed on the demarcation zone between South Korea and North Korea, and the country had a long history of neutral diplomacy.

But China and the United States had to take their share of responsibility, she added.

“We are ready to offer our role … as a mediator,” Leuthard told a news conference. “It is really time now to sit down at a table. Big powers have a responsibility.”

Switzerland North Korea Latest

Swiss President Doris Leuthard, seen during a press conference in Bern on May 21, said Monday her country could help mediate the international standoff between North Korea and other countries. (Peter Klaunzer/Associated Press)

UN Security Council to discuss sanctions

South Korea said on Monday it was talking to the United States about deploying aircraft carriers and strategic bombers to the Korean peninsula after signs North Korea might launch more missiles in the wake of its claim it launched it sixth and largest nuclear test on Sunday.

The UN Security Council was set to meet later on Monday to discuss new sanctions against the isolated regime.

U.S. President Donald Trump had also asked to be briefed on all available military options, according to his defence chief.

Officials said activity around missile launch sites suggested North Korea planned more missile tests.

“We have continued to see signs of possibly more ballistic missile launches. We also forecast North Korea could fire an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Jang Kyoung-soo, South Korea’s acting deputy minister of national defence policy, told a parliament hearing on Monday.

Koreas Tensions Standing By Seoul

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, second from right, is shown at an undisclosed location in North Korea, which claims to have detonated its strongest-ever nuclear test on Sunday. (Korean Central News Agency via Associated Press)

North Korea tested two ICBMs in July that could fly about 10,000 kilometres, putting many parts of the U.S. mainland within range and prompting a new round of tough international sanctions.

South Korea’s response

South Korea’s air force and army conducted exercises involving long-range air-to-surface and ballistic missiles on Monday following the North’s apparent nuclear test on Sunday, its joint chiefs of staff said in a statement.

In addition to the drill, South Korea will co-operate with the United States and seek to deploy “strategic assets like aircraft carriers and strategic bombers,” Jang said.

South Korea’s Defence Ministry also said it would deploy the four remaining launchers of a new U.S. missile defence system after the completion of an environmental assessment by the government. The rollout of the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system at a site south of the South Korean capital, Seoul — vehemently opposed by neighbouring China and Russia — had been delayed since June.

U.S. threatens to get tough

North Korea said it tested an advanced hydrogen bomb for a long-range missile on Sunday, prompting a warning of a “massive” military response from the United States if it or its allies were threatened.

‘We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, but … we have many options to do so.”– Jim Mattis, U.S. defence secretary

“We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea,” U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said after meeting Trump and his national security team. “But as I said, we have many options to do so.”

Trump has previously vowed to stop North Korea developing nuclear weapons, saying he would unleash “fire and fury” if it threatened U.S. territory.

Despite the tough talk, the immediate focus of the international response was expected to be on tougher economic sanctions. Diplomats have said the UN Security Council could now consider banning North Korean textile exports and its national airline, stop supplies of oil to the government and military, prevent North Koreans from working abroad and add top officials to a blacklist to subject them to an asset freeze and travel ban.

Asked about Trump’s threat to punish countries that trade with North Korea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said China has dedicated itself to resolving the North Korean issue through talks, and China’s efforts had been recognized.

“What we absolutely cannot accept is that on the one hand [we are] making arduous efforts to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, and on the other hand [our] interests are being sanctioned or harmed. This is both not objective and not fair,” he told a regular briefing.

On possible new UN sanctions, and whether China would support cutting off oil, Geng said it would depend on the outcome of Security Council discussions.

Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency said in an editorial North Korea was “playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship” and should wake up to the fact that such a tactic “can never bring security it pursues.”

While South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed on Monday to work with the United States to pursue stronger sanctions, Russia voiced skepticism.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said sanctions on North Korea had reached the limit of their impact. Any more would be aimed at breaking its economy, so a decision to impose further constraints would become dramatically harder, he told a BRICS summit in China.

Markets cautious

Japanese and South Korean stock markets both closed down about one per cent on Monday, while safe haven assets including gold and sovereign bonds ticked higher, but trade was cautious.

“Assuming the worst on the Korean peninsula has not proven to be a winning trading strategy this year,” said Sean Callow, a senior foreign exchange strategist at Westpac Bank.

“Investors seem reluctant to price in anything more severe than trade sanctions, and the absence of another ‘fire and fury’ Trump tweet has helped encourage markets to respond warily.”

North Korea’s latest nuclear test prompts international outrage2:11

South Korea’s finance minister vowed to support financial markets if instability showed signs of spreading to the real economy.

Sunday’s test registered with international seismic agencies as a man-made earthquake near a test site. Japanese and South Korean officials said the tremor was about 10 times more powerful than the one picked up after North Korea’s previous nuclear test a year ago.

Trudeau condemns nuclear actions

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among world leaders also condemning the apparent North Korean nuclear test, calling it a “clear and present threat to the safety and security of its neighbours and the international community.”

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Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, pictured in Saskatoon on Friday, said Sunday that North Korea’s nuclear testing claims have created a ‘clear and present threat’ to international security. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

“These continued provocations by North Korea’s leadership, along with their profoundly dangerous push to develop nuclear weapons and test ballistic missiles near neighbouring countries, only serve to further isolate them,” Trudeau said in a statement Sunday.

“We urge the UN Security Council to take further decisive action to effectively constrain North Korea’s proliferation efforts, and call on all states to fully implement relevant UN sanctions.”

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