President Donald Trump has again made separate telephone calls from the White House to the leaders of Japan and China to discuss concerns about North Korea.
The 30-minute call between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meant to increase pressure on Pyongyang not to engage in further provocative actions, but was not prompted by any significant change in the situation, according to officials in Tokyo.
“We agreed to strongly demand North Korea, which is repeating its provocation, show restraint,” Abe told reporters in Tokyo on Monday.
“We will maintain close contact with the United States, maintain a high level of vigilance and firmly respond,” he added.
Abe also said he and Trump agreed that a larger role in dealing with Pyongyang should be played by China.
Trump subsequently spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping about North Korea, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The Chinese president said he hopes all sides avoid doing anything to worsen the tense situation on the Korean peninsula, according to the Xinhua news agency.
Trump, in the phone call with Xi, “criticized North Korea’s continued belligerence and emphasized Pyongyang’s actions are destabilizing the Korean Peninsula,” according to a White House readout issued Monday. “The two leaders reaffirmed the urgency of the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, and committed to strengthen coordination in achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
U.S. officials have repeatedly said all options remain “on the table” to deal with further North Korean provocations.
The conversations between Trump and two of his counterparts in Asia (where it was Monday morning) took place as a US Navy strike force, led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, is approaching the Korean peninsula.
Officials in Seoul announced Monday the USS Carl Vinson is scheduled to hold a joint training exercise with South Korean naval ships.
“Consultations are under way in connection with the exercise,” Ministry of National Defense spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told reporters. But he provided no additional details.
The approach of the American naval carrier strike group has not gone unnoticed in Pyongyang.
“Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike,” read a Sunday commentary in the Rodong Sinmun, the Workers’ Party newspaper.
Such threats are common from the reclusive state.
North Korea on Tuesday celebrates the anniversary of the founding of its military, a key holiday in the country.
There are concerns Pyongyang, in conjunction with the anniversary, will demonstrate a show of force by possibly firing more ballistic missiles or conducting its sixth nuclear test.
Such activities by North Korea are prohibited under United Nations Security Council resolutions.
North Korea’ sole significant ally, China, also opposes Pyongyang’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.
President Trump has said that Chinese President Xi Jinping is applying pressure on North Korea to not engage in further provocations.
It is speculated by analysts in Washington and Beijing that China is threatening to cut crude oil supplies to its impoverished neighbor should it conduct another nuclear test.
US citizen detained
Meanwhile a third U.S. citizen was detained Friday by North Korean authorities as he was about to leave the country.
The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) confirmed the detention of Kim Sang-duk, who had been teaching accounting at the privately-funded school started by evangelical Christians.
“We cannot comment on anything that Mr. Kim may be alleged to have done that is not related to his teaching work on the PUST campus,” the university said in a statement on Sunday.
At least two other U.S. citizens are known to be held in North Korea.
The U.S. State Department said it is “aware of reports” that a third American had been detained and is working with Swedish diplomats on the case.
The United States and North Korea have never had diplomatic ties. Sweden’s embassy in Pyongyang represents the interests of American citizens in the country.
North Korea has a pattern of detaining and sentencing American visitors to prison in order to get high profile visitors to go there to obtain their release.