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Sunday, January 24, 2016, 16:43

Kerry off to Asia to address maritime disputes, DPRK nukes

By Associated Press
Kerry off to Asia to address maritime disputes, DPRK nukes
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to US Embassy staff in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan 24, 2016, before leaving Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — US Secretary of State John Kerry is pressing for peaceful resolutions to increasingly tense maritime disputes in Asia and urging China to take a firmer stand on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s nuclear program after its recent bomb test.

Kerry left Saudi Arabia on Sunday and planned stops in Laos, Cambodia and China, shifting his focus as he wraps up an around-the-world diplomatic mission that began in Switzerland with a heavy emphasis on the Middle East, particularly Iran and efforts to bring an end to Syria's civil war.

His first stop is Laos, the current head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Before that summit, US officials say, Kerry will make the case to the leader of the 10-nation bloc to present a unified stance in dealing with China on the disputes over the South China Sea.

Kerry will be only the second secretary of state to visit Laos since 1955 — Hillary Clinton visited in 2012. And Obama will become the first US leader to visit the landlocked nation later this year. Laos was targeted heavily by US bombing during the Vietnam War and still has large amounts of unexploded ordnance littering its countryside. The US has stepped up efforts to help clear Laos of those bombs and Kerry is expected to commit to expanding and upgrading such programs with details to be announced when Obama visits later in 2016, the US official said.

In Cambodia, Kerry is expected to note the country's strong economic growth and plans to meet representatives of Cambodia's opposition, led by a man who has been in self-imposed exile since November.

Kerry will wrap up his Asia tour in Beijing, where he will renew concerns over the South China Sea and call for Chinese leaders to take more steps to press DPRK on its nuclear program. Since DPRK's nuclear test earlier this month, US officials asserted that China must use its leverage to demand that the DPRK leadership end its nuclear weapons program and testing and return to six-nation talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

The senior US official said the US believes that the pressure China has exerted on the DPRK so far has not been enough to change the calculus of DPRK's young leader, Kim Jun Un, and that it is important for China to join the US, ROK and Japan in presenting a united front, which "must be a firm one, not a flaccid one."

The official said the US wants the Chinese to line up with Seoul, Washington and Tokyo in convincing DPRK that the peaceful way forward is to comply with UN Security Council resolutions but "continuing down the road of provocation is a dead-end street."

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