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Tillerson's Thai stop spotlights country's North Korea ties
By Sally MAIRS
Bangkok (AFP) Aug 8, 2017

N. Korea threatens missile strike near US territory Guam: KCNA
Seoul (AFP) Aug 8, 2017 - North Korea said Wednesday that it is considering strikes near US strategic military installations in Guam with its intermediate range ballistic missiles, state news agency KCNA reported.

The threat came hours after US President Donald Trump threatened Pyongyang with "fire and fury" over its missile program and days after the UN Security Council levied new sanctions on North Korea over its growing nuclear arsenal.

Pyongyang said it's "now carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12," according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The plan will be finalised "and will be put into practice in a multi-concurrent and consecutive way any moment once Kim Jong Un, supreme commander of the nuclear force of the DPRK, makes a decision," it added.

The threat came after Trump issued an apocalyptic warning, saying North Korea faces "fire and fury" over its missile program, after US media reported Pyongyang has successfully miniaturised a nuclear warhead.

Trump's warning followed a Washington Post report that quoted a Defense Intelligence Agency analysis as saying officials think North Korea now has "nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery" -- including in its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The progress suggests North Korea is further along the path to having a deployable nuclear missile than had previously been acknowledged.

Experts had until last month said it would take another two or three years for North Korea to develop a nuclear-tipped ICBM. But that calculus suddenly changed after Pyongyang last month tested two ICBMs -- the first time North Korean leader Kim had demonstrated such a capability.

The remarks mark a sharp rise in rhetoric from the United States. Previous administration comments have focused on finding non-military solutions.

North Korea has vowed that tough new UN sanctions agreed over the weekend would not stop it from developing its nuclear arsenal, rejecting talks and angrily threatening retaliation against the United States.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a pit-stop in Bangkok on Tuesday with a plea to the kingdom to curb business ties with North Korea, as Washington rounds up allies for its bid to halt Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

Tillerson is the highest level American diplomat to visit Thailand since a 2014 coup strained ties between the longtime friends and saw China court Bangkok with massive arms sales and infrastructure deals.

Thailand is one of several Southeast Asian countries to host a North Korean embassy and enjoys valuable bilateral trade with the reclusive regime.

In 2014 the two countries shared trade worth $126 million, according to Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a near three-fold increase since 2009.

But America wants Thailand to crack down on North Korean firms that use the capital as a trading hub through front businesses, according to acting US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Susan Thornton.

Tillerson will also lean on the kingdom to tighten visa requirements for North Koreans entering Thailand and squeeze its diplomatic mission, Thornton added.

Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha beamed as he welcomed the US envoy to Government House.

After their meeting a Thai government spokesman said the kingdom was ready to "co-operate and give its support" to solve the crisis on the Korean peninsula, adding the kingdom "is complying with" beefed-up UN sanctions targeting Pyongyang.

Those sanctions could cost North Korea $1 billion a year.

Tillerson's one-day visit follows a regional forum in Manila, where the former ExxonMobil CEO hailed the new sanctions regime on North Korea over its growing nuclear arsenal.

They were levied -- with the agreement of North Korean lifeline China -- in response to the launch of two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that North Korea has produced a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles ,a major development sure to further inflame tensions.

Shortly after the report was published President Donald Trump warned Pyongyang that if it continues to threaten the United States, it will be struck with "fire and fury".

- 'Ups and downs' -

The US is also urging Thailand to take in more North Korean refugees, Thornton said ahead of the visit.

The kingdom has long been a transit route for defectors who make the arduous journey through China, then into Laos or Cambodia and Thailand, where they seek sanctuary at the South Korean Embassy. But it does not officially recognise them as refugees.

Analysts say Thailand is unlikely to significantly redraw its North Korean ties.

The kingdom has a history of "tiptoeing (between) various states that have problems," Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a foreign policy expert at Chulalongkorn University, told AFP.

Tillerson told US embassy staff he wanted to "grow" the relationship between America and its oldest Asian ally, "even in its ups and downs".

It was not immediately clear how firmly the former oilman would push the junta government on its crackdown on political rights.

Trump's administration re-set ties with Thailand after relations hit the buffers following the 2014 coup.

The US condemned the army takeover and edged away from the regime, trimming back military aid.

But Trump, who has enraged rights groups by cosying up to strongmen around the globe, has reached out to the junta chief directly and extended a White House invite.

The thaw also comes amid Washington's growing concerns over rival superpower China's clout in the region.

Beijing entices its smaller neighbours by offering massive investment decoupled from human rights concerns, which appeals to leaders weary of US pressure.

Thailand is a lynchpin country in China's massive trade and infrastructure 'One Belt, One Road' strategy.

China wants to build a high-speed railway through Thailand to its southern ports.

Tillerson was due to pay respects to Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been lying in state at the Grand Palace since his death in October 2016.

The Secretary of State arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday evening and headed to parliament where he held talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

China holds wargames as North Korea tensions spike
Shanghai (AFP) Aug 8, 2017
The Chinese navy and air force flexed their muscles in live-fire drills in seas adjacent to the Korean Peninsula, the defence ministry said, amid regional tensions over North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weaponry. The "large-scale" exercises were being conducted in the seas and skies off China's east coast in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Gulf, and included the firing of dozens of missiles, a notic ... read more

Related Links
Learn about nuclear weapons doctrine and defense at SpaceWar.com
Learn about missile defense at SpaceWar.com
All about missiles at SpaceWar.com
Learn about the Superpowers of the 21st Century at SpaceWar.com

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