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Eyeing North Korea, US and Japan to boost military ties

The United States and Japan have agreed to step up defense cooperation to deal with threats posed by North Korea. Tensions remain high in East Asia in view of Pyongyang's missile tests.

North Korea dominated the annual security talks between US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and their Japanese counterparts in Washington on Thursday, as the two sides decided to work more closely on North Korea.

"For this threat of North Korea, at this meeting, we agreed to increase the pressure and to strengthen the alliance capability,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said after the talks.

North Korea has repeatedly threatened to target Japan, home to numerous US military installations. It has even test fired missiles into Sea of Japan  in the past.

International fears about North Korea's missiles have soared in recent weeks.

Read more: Where did North Korea get its missile technology?

Watch video 25:59

North Korea: Diplomacy or war?

Pyongyang said last week it was considering plans to strike near US territory of Guam in the Pacific. This after US President Donald Trump warned North Korea would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United States.

Tensions have since eased somewhat after North Korea said it did not immediately plan to fire the missiles.

Tillerson reiterated that the United States wanted dialogue with Pyongyang, but only if it were meaningful.

"Our effort is to cause them to want to engage in talks but engage in talks with an understanding that these talks will lead to a different conclusion than talks of the past," he said, referring to North Korea's breach of the 2005 agreement to suspend its nuclear program.

Military options remain

Tillerson, however, said the US-led campaign to pressure North Korea into shuttering its nuclear ambitions needed to be backed by potential military consequences.

Washington is "prepared militarily" to respond, if necessary, he said.

US Defense Secretary Mattis also did not rule out a possible US military action against North Korea.

"In close collaboration with our allies, there are strong military consequences if DPRK initiates hostilities," Mattis said, referring to North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Their comments come after White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said in an interview that there was "no military solution" to North Korea's nuclear threats because of Pyongyang's artillery targeting the South Korean capital Seoul.

South Korean leaders have also said another war on the Korean Peninsula was out of the question and that Trump had agreed not to take action against North Korea without the agreement of officials in Seoul.

ap/sms (Reuters, AP)

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