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Abe aims at N. Korea after storming to 'super-majority' vote win
By Miwa SUZUKI, Richard CARTER
Tokyo (AFP) Oct 23, 2017

Trump says US 'totally prepared' for potential NKorea threat
Washington (AFP) Oct 22, 2017 - The United States is "totally prepared" to respond to threats from Pyongyang, US President Donald Trump said in an interview aired Sunday, while also emphasizing his "exceptional relationship" with China's leader.

"We're so prepared like you wouldn't believe," Trump told the Fox News program Sunday Morning Futures while discussing tensions with North Korea, which have soared over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

"You would be shocked to see how totally prepared we are if we need to be," said Trump, who has in recent months engaged in a fiery verbal tit-for-tat with North Korea's leader.

"Would it be nice not to do that? The answer is yes," Trump went on, appearing to allude to potential conflict.

"Will that happen? Who knows," the US president said.

The North has drawn international ire in recent months for conducting a sixth nuclear test and tests of long-range missiles capable of striking the US mainland.

Asked about US policy towards China, the North's longtime ally, Trump praised Beijing for "helping" the US by enforcing sanctions against Pyongyang.

"He's for China. And I'm for the US," he said of Chinese President Xi Jinping. "But we do have a very good -- I would say an exceptional relationship. And China's really helping us. With respect to North Korea."

"China is big stuff," he added, saying Xi has "got the power to do something very significant with respect to North Korea."

Mattis to discuss N. Korea threat on Asia trip
Clark, Philippines (AFP) Oct 23, 2017 - US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Monday that curbing military threats from North Korea would be high on the agenda on his Asian tour this week, ahead of a visit by Donald Trump.

Tension has been high on the divided peninsula for months with Pyongyang staging its sixth nuclear test and launching two ICBMs that apparently brought much of the US mainland into range.

Trump and the North's leader Kim Jong-Un have meanwhile traded threats of war and personal insults.

Mattis, on his way to the Philippines for security talks with Southeast Asian defence ministers, said he would discuss the "regional security crisis caused by reckless... North Korea" among other issues.

At the forum, Mattis is also expected to hold three-way talks with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan -- key US allies in Asia -- before visiting Seoul for annual defence talks.

"We will discuss... how we are going to maintain peace by keeping our militaries alert while our diplomats -- Japanese, South Korean and US -- work with all nations to denuclearise the Korean peninsula," Mattis told reporters on his aircraft.

He stressed the international community's goal was to denuclearise the flashpoint region, adding: "There is only one country with nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula."

Mattis' visit to Seoul comes ahead of Trump's first presidential trip to Asia next month, which also includes South Korea. All eyes will be on Trump's message to the isolated North.

His recent remark that "only one thing will work" with North Korea fuelled concerns of a potential conflict.

But even some Trump advisers say US military options are limited when Pyongyang could launch an artillery barrage on the South Korean capital Seoul -- only around 50 kilometres from the heavily fortified border and home to 10 million people.

The defence ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), meeting in the northern Philippine city of Clark ahead of talks with Mattis, issued a strong statement against North Korea on Monday.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Monday to work with the US, China and Russia to contain North Korea's nuclear threat with "strong, resolute diplomacy", as he "humbly" accepted his landslide victory in a snap election.

Fresh from clinching a two-thirds "super-majority" that enables the nationalist premier to realise his dream of revising Japan's pacifist constitution, Abe vowed to forge a "national consensus" on the divisive issue.

Addressing reporters on his election win, Abe said he would "confirm close co-operation" on North Korea with Donald Trump when the US president visits Japan next month and then discuss the issue with the Chinese and Russian leaders.

"I have renewed my determination to secure people's lives and peaceful living, no matter what," said the 63-year-old.

North Korea, which has threatened to "sink" Japan and fired two missiles over its northern islands, dominated the 12-day election campaign that Abe eventually won comfortably.

"We will solve North Korea's missile, nuclear and abduction issues with strong, resolute diplomacy," he said in reference to the abduction of Japanese by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s.

Abe's conservative coalition was on track to win at least 313 seats with only a handful left to call, according to public broadcaster NHK, giving him the coveted two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament.

He is now on course to become Japan's longest-serving premier, winning a fresh term at the helm of the world's third-biggest economy and key US regional ally.

North Korean belligerence helped the ruling coalition because "people are scared" and voted for Abe's hardline stance, said Gerald Curtis, professor of political science at Columbia University.

"I focused on the national defence issue, because I am concerned about North Korea. So I chose the party that will work firmly on this issue," one voter, 66-year-old pensioner Tsuyoshi Ushijima, told AFP.

- 'Some concerns' about Abe -

However, while local media acknowledged what was described as a landslide victory, many attributed Abe's win to a weak and ineffective opposition and urged caution.

"The voters didn't think the opposition parties were capable of running a government... they chose Prime Minister Abe, who is at least better, even if they had some concerns about the ruling coalition," said the Nikkei daily.

The Asahi newspaper said: "The Abe brand is not as strong as it was before. There are some signs that voters are seeking a change in the situation whereby Abe is the only decent option."

According to an exit poll by Kyodo News on Sunday, 51 percent of voters said they do not trust Abe with 44 percent saying they did.

Turnout was expected to be only a fraction higher than the all-time low in the 2014 election. It was boosted largely by people voting early to avoid a typhoon, which smashed into Japan on election day.

The opposition Party of Hope, formed only weeks before the election by the popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, suffered a drubbing. It won just 49 seats according to the NHK projections.

A chastened Koike, speaking thousands of kilometres away in Paris where she was attending an event in her capacity as leader of the world's biggest city, said it was a "very severe result" for which she took full responsibility.

The new centre-left Constitutional Democratic Party out-performed Koike's new group but still trailed far behind Abe with 55 seats.

"People are reluctant about Prime Minister Abe, but then who would you turn to? There is no one," said Naoto Nonaka, professor at Gakushuin University in Tokyo.

- 'Deepen constitution debate' -

Abe, who has in the past been criticised for arrogance towards voters, vowed to face the challenge posed by the victory "humbly."

He struck a cautious note on possible revisions to the US-imposed constitution, saying he would "deepen" debate in parliament on the divisive issue but not seek to ram anything through.

Any changes to the document must be ratified by both chambers of parliament and then in a referendum, with surveys showing voters are split on the topic.

"Abe would want to see a constitutional revision but we know he is ideologically on the right and he's very pragmatic at the same time. And I think that pragmatism will force him to back off from pushing that issue too hard," said Curtis.

Many voters stressed that the economy is their biggest concern. The prime minister's trademark "Abenomics" strategy of ultra-loose monetary policy and huge government spending has failed to rekindle the former Asian powerhouse.

But investors cheered the victory, with the benchmark Tokyo index up 1.11 percent, extending a winning run that has seen 15 straight consecutive gains for the first time in its near 70-year history.

CIA chief: North Korea close to nuke that could hit US
Washington (AFP) Oct 19, 2017
The United States should assume Kim Jong-Un's regime is "on the cusp" of getting a nuclear missile capable of striking US targets and work to prevent this, the head of the CIA said Thursday. CIA director Mike Pompeo said President Donald Trump is determined to prevent North Korea from making the breakthrough "whether it happens on Tuesday or a month from Tuesday." Both Pompeo and US Nati ... read more

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