North Korea still needs time to perfect re-entry technology - South Korea vice defence minister

By Reuters
August 17,2017
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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives to meet with Chile's President Michelle Bachelet (not pictured) at the government house in Santiago, Chile August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

By Rosalba O'Brien

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Mexico to break ties with North Korea on Wednesday, adding that "all options" are on the table with regards to the Asian state.

"The U.S. places great importance on the ongoing diplomatic isolation of the Kim regime and we strongly urge Chile today, and we urge Brazil, Mexico, and Peru to break all diplomatic and commercial ties to North Korea," Pence said during a visit to Chile in a joint news conference with Chile's President Michelle Bachelet.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned North Korea last week it would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United States, prompting North Korea to say it was considering plans to fire missiles towards the Pacific island of Guam. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un later delayed the decision to fire the missiles, a move Trump praised earlier on Wednesday.

The governments of countries Pence mentioned mostly said they did not have immediate plans to break off ties. Brazil, the region's largest economy, opened an embassy in Pyongyang in 2009 while North Korea has an embassy in Brasilia.

"Brazil follows the decisions of multilateral organizations," a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said when asked if Brasilia would break off trade and diplomatic ties.

Peru's Prime Minister Fernando Zavala said in a news conference the country had not been formally asked to break ties by the United States and would evaluate the issue at the right time.

Lima, which has condemned North Korea's missile tests in the past, asked North Korea to reduce its embassy personnel a couple of months ago over an unrelated matter, a government source said.

The Mexican government did not have an immediate comment in response to Pence. North Korea has an embassy and a consulate in Mexico, while Mexico is accredited to Pyongyang from its Seoul embassy.

Trade between Latin American countries and North Korea is not significant.

Brazil, the region's largest economy, had just $2.1 million (£1.6 million) worth of exports - mainly coffee, meat, tobacco and leather - and $8.7 million of imports with North Korea in 2016, according to government figures.

Last year Bolivia, which does not have diplomatic relations, imported $1.16 million of goods from North Korea, mostly machinery, and exported $7,000 largely of alpaca and llama products, official data showed.

Chile has a joint arrangement of diplomatic relations with North Korea and China but has not presented credentials for four years, according to Pence.

"I've requested of Bachelet today to terminate that relationship," he said.

Pence said he would "especially welcome" Chile reclassifying its wine exports as a luxury good, which would bring it under the umbrella of United Nations sanctions against the isolated country. Chile is the world's leading wine exporter outside of Europe.

Neighbouring Argentina, Latin America's No.3 economy, said it has no diplomatic relations with North Korea.

The leftist governments of Cuba and Venezuela, meanwhile, have remained largely quiet on the current standoff, although the North Korean ambassador to Venezuela recently said the two countries were interested in boosting relations.

Pence said that there were recent glimmers of hope on the North Korea situation.

"Our administration has been marshalling the support of nations around the world, and as the president acknowledged this morning, we are beginning to see progress in dealing with North Korea's provocations," he said.

Pence also reiterated recent comments that Latin America "should do more" on Venezuela, where over 120 people have been killed since anti-government protests began in April.

Trump's comments last week that a "military option" was on the table for Venezuela caused shockwaves through the region.

"Chile will not support coups or military intervention," said Bachelet at the news conference. "In the case of sanctions, we will support any measures adopted by the UN Security Council."

Pence is on his third stop of a Latin America tour that also included Argentina and Colombia. He said he would end the trip "a little bit early" on Thursday after visiting Panama.

(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien, Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, Bruno Federowski and Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo, Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino in Lima, Caroline Stauffer in Buenos Aires, Daniel Ramos in La Paz, Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City, Marc Frank in Havana and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)