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Diplomacy

Kerry pledges support to allies while seeking a peaceful solution to nuclear tensions

US Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Japan on the final leg of his Asian tour to try and defuse nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula. He vowed to defend allies but urged leaders to seek a peaceful solution.

Kerry’s weekend tour of Asia - a region plagued by tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program and the communist nation’s threats against the West – has made its last stop in Japan.

America's top diplomat said in Tokyo on Sunday that the US would defend its allies at all costs but stressed the need for a peaceful end to the conflict. "The United States is fully committed to the defense of Japan," Kerry said in a press conference with Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

"I think it is really unfortunate that there has been so much focus and attention in the media and elsewhere on the subject of war, when what we really ought to be talking about is the possibility of peace. And I think there are those possibilities," Kerry added.

North Korea has, for the most part, ignored Kerry's diplomatic efforts in Asia. Pyongyang did, however, respond to South Korea's earlier request for a dialogue to help ease tensions with a flat refusal on Sunday.

Strong message

Kerry talks in Japan are focusing mainly on how to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said before the talks that he expected the discussions to send a message that North Korea must listen to the international community. “It is important that we coordinate internationally and firmly tell North Korea that it must give up its nuclear and missile programs,” Onodera said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet with Kerry on Monday, which also happens to be North Korea’s biggest holiday, the Day of the Sun. The holiday celebrates the birth date of state founder Kim Il-Sung, which is often marked with pomp and circumstance.

Abe said that Pyongyang had to realize it was harming itself by being “provocative.”

“The international community has to be united and make North Korea realize that their provocative acts do not bring any benefit to North Korea and that the situation for them is becoming more difficult,” national broadcaster NHK reported Abe as saying.

Diplomatic efforts

Kerry’s Japan visit comes on the heels of a whirlwind tour of the region. Kerry stopped first in South Korea on Friday before heading to China on Saturday. His talks have been aimed at bolstering support against North Korea’s nuclear program.

In Beijing, Kerry said both the US and China were committed to “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.”

North Korean leaders have been threatening to attack the United States and South Korea for weeks, ever since new UN sanctions were put into place in response to the North’s latest nuclear arms test in February. Some fear that a new missile launch or nuclear test may come soon.

South Koreans, despite the rising tensions and threats, have remained calm. The South invited the North to take part in talks on the future of the Kaesong joint industrial zone after the North said it would withdraw its 53,000 workers from the project and suspend operations.

The diplomatic effort was meant to help open a dialogue between the two countries and ease tensions. The North, however, rejected the offer on Sunday.

tm/slk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)