UNITED NATIONS – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is coming to the United Nations for the first time later this month to chair a ministerial meeting of the Security Council on reining in North Korea's nuclear program, a top priority of the Trump administration.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley made the announcement Monday, saying the April 28 meeting will be an important follow-up to this weekend's talks between President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping at the U.S. leader's resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Trump said ahead of the meeting that China has great influence over North Korea and he wants Xi to help the U.S. denuclearize the reclusive northeast Asian nation. If the Chinese leader won't, Trump said he can handle the problem without Beijing.
Haley, the Security Council president this month, said the focus of the April 28 meeting will depend a lot on the outcome of the Xi-Trump talks.
"The United States has seen China for 25 plus years say that they're concerned about North Korea but we haven't seen them act like they're concerned about North Korea," she said. "This administration wants to see them act, and I think they're going to pressure them to do that."
"We all hope ... that we see some real partnership and working together," Haley said.
Tensions have escalated over North Korean moves to accelerate its weapons development. The North conducted two nuclear tests and 24 ballistic missile tests last year, defying six Security Council sanctions resolutions banning any testing. This has deepened concern in Washington that Pyongyang could soon develop a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
China has supported the six sanctions resolution but Haley said it needs to fully implement the sanctions — as do other U.N. member states.
China is North Korea's most important source of diplomatic support and economic assistance, accounting for about 90 percent of the North's trade and supplying fuel and many of other necessities. But Beijing says its leverage over North Korea is limited.
In February, it did suspend imports of North Korean coal for the rest of the year, depriving Kim Jong Un's regime of a crucial source of foreign currency, though comments from Haley last week indicated that Beijing is allowing imports in other ways.
Haley said "there is will in the Security Council" to deal with North Korea's nuclear program but members need to discuss "how do we push that forward."
"We hope that we get as many foreign ministers to come as possible" to the April 28 meeting, "because North Korea is an issue, it's a threat," Haley said.
"On any given day we're waiting on another ballistic missile test," she said, "and I think that our goal is to say, what do we have to do to stop them?"