Published: Sat, May 13, 2017
USA | By Kelli Rowe

Tillerson calls for balancing U.S. security interests, values

Tillerson calls for balancing U.S. security interests, values

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy said Tillerson urged ASEAN members to consider cutting or downgrading diplomatic relations with Pyongyang to limit financial transactions under diplomatic cover that help fund North Korea's nuclear program.

Tillerson further urged world states to respect United Nations sanctions already imposed on North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs, voicing willingness to use secondary sanctions against foreign companies that still do business with Pyongyang.

Tillerson delivered the message - aimed at China, which has reclaimed thousands of acres of land in the South China Sea in recent years - during a lunch Thursday with ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Washington.

"We had a very good meeting: short, sharp and to the point", Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told reporters.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walked department employees through his plans to reorganize the agency on Wednesday, echoing numerous Trump administration's talking points about its larger goal of reducing the federal workforce.

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"Our immediate concern is to try and ensure the tension on the peninsula doesn't increase".

Singapore's foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said sanctions would have to be fully implemented, but North Korea's presence in his country is already minimal. "We just kind of lost track of how we were doing", he said, referring to the last two decades in USA foreign policy. Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign ministry said Wednesday that Beijing will implement additional sanctions, as outlined in UN Security Council resolution 2321.

"We see opportunities to grow that relationship and it's a relationship that has many dimensions", he added, citing how Mr Trump's agreement to attend two regional summits in the Philippines and Vietnam in November was a sign of the administration's early commitment to the region. Broadly speaking, they want a sustained US presence in the region - which President Barack Obama promised them as part of his "pivot" to Asia - to counter China's military assertiveness and growing economic dominance over its neighbors. He emphasized the importance of economic and trade ties between the US and Southeast Asia.

Duterte said his phone conversation with Xi was at the behest of Trump, who called the Philippine leader at the end of the Asean summit in Manila on April 29.

And he cited as an example the murder with a nerve agent in February of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's brother Kim Jong-Nam in a Malaysian airport.

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However, long-standing USA allies like the Philippines and Thailand have moved closer to China, complicating US hopes for unity on issues like control over the potentially resource-rich South China Sea.

"We appreciated the commitments by the United States to Asean including supporting Asean Community building and regional integration efforts", the statement said.

Washington wants ASEAN countries to crack down on money laundering and smuggling involving North Korea and to look at restricting legal business too.

US Vice President Mike Pence announced Trump's decision to join the Asean meetings in a visit to the Jakarta headquarters of the Asean in April.

The United States has conducted freedom of navigation operations to challenge South China Sea claims, angering China, but not yet under Trump. Chris Murphy, who has made foreign policy one of the cornerstones of his Senate career, said in a tweet.

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