Prodded by Trump, nations step up bid to isolate North Korea

Bolstered by new U.N. sanctions, the United States and North Korea's neighbors are joining in a fresh attempt to isolate Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs, in a global pressure campaign being cheered on by President Donald Trump.

After weeks of U.S. frustration over China's reluctance to take action, Trump's strategy of relying on Beijing's help showed early signs of paying off. The White House praised China's move to join a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution slapping new sanctions that could cut off about one-third of the North's roughly $3 billion in annual exports.

"China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!" Trump wrote on Twitter in comments echoed by the White House, where officials said the sanctions were just the start of an amped-up bid to squeeze Pyongyang diplomatically and economically.

The sanctions move played out as foreign ministers from across Asia gathered Sunday for a regional summit in the Philippines, where concerns about North Korea were already dominating the agenda.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Manila for the summit, planned several meetings with top diplomats from China and other countries central to the debate about how to stop the North's weapons development. As he sat down with South Korea's envoy, Tillerson said they planned to discuss next steps to ramp up pressure following the U.N. sanctions.

"It was a good outcome," Tillerson said of the Security Council vote. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha went further, calling it "a very, very good outcome."

Adding another layer of drama to the diplomatic maneuvering in Manila was the presence of North Korea's top diplomat, Ri Yong Ho, who planned his own meeting with China's foreign minister on the summit's sidelines. The U.S. has been pushing to temporarily expel Pyongyang from the 27-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, but diplomats gathered here have been split on that proposal.

Ri's attendance at the summit could create an awkward tension for Tillerson, who has repeatedly emphasized the Trump administration's willingness to sit down with North Korea for negotiations — but only on the condition it abandon its nuclear aspirations. To that end, the U.S. has insisted it does not seek regime change in North Korea.

Tillerson had no plans to meet with Ri, and it was unclear whether they might cross paths informally during the summit, which includes a gala dinner attended by the foreign ministers. Ahead of Tillerson's trip, the top American diplomat for Asia said the U.S. was expecting a "general chorus of condemnation of North Korea's provocative behavior" as well as "pretty serious diplomatic isolation directed at the North Korean foreign minister."


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