Australia to Curtail Diplomatic Ties With North Korea

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Australia will significantly curtail its diplomatic ties with North Korea over a series of brazen missile tests that have drawn widespread international condemnation, local media reported Friday.

Australia is one of a handful of countries that maintains limited diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

According to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Friday, the head of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Michael L'Estrange, said departmental dealings with North Korean officials will be canceled.

"Within our own narrow parameter of maneuverability we have announced in the last 24 hours that those kinds of exchanges between officials will now be significantly truncated," L'Estrange was quoted as saying.

The report did not elaborate and calls to the department seeking confirmation were not immediately returned Friday.

L'Estrange — who was speaking before the Sydney Institute think-tank late Thursday — said Australia would not punish North Korea by rolling back its humanitarian program there.

"We have a small humanitarian aid program with North Korea that is delivered through multilateral channels and we're not intending to harm the interests of the North Korean people," he said.

Calling the current crisis with North Korea an important test for the international community, L'Estrange said Australia was putting its hopes in the U.N. Security Council to pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its missile program.

North Korea sparked a wave of international protest this week when it tested seven missiles, including one long-range missile, all of which landed into the Sea of Japan without causing any damage.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard said Friday he expected there would be more missile tests, and that the international community must act decisively if North Korea is to be contained.

"A lot of countries are potential targets if North Korea successfully develops a capacity to fire intercontinental ballistic missiles," Howard told the Nine television network Friday.

"We are dealing here with a quite irrational country and it would seem ... that even countries as close to North Korea as China are not perhaps having the influence on North Korea's behavior that we might want. It's a serious issue."