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Pence: Peace in Korean peninsula still possible

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Denuclearization of the Korean peninsula can still be achieved peacefully because of Washington’s new engagement with China, US Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday, despite growing fears North Korea could soon conduct a new nuclear test.

South Korea is on heightened alert ahead of another important anniversary in the reclusive North that could be the trigger for a new nuclear test or launch of ballistic missiles, with a large concentration of military hardware massed on both sides of the border.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent months after Pyongyang conducted two nuclear weapons tests last year and carried out a steady stream of ballistic missile tests in defiance of United Nations resolutions and sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile but his deputy said in Sydney on Saturday a peaceful outcome was still achievable because of warming ties between Beijing and Washington.

“We truly believe that, as our allies in the region and China bring that pressure to bear, there is a chance that we can achieve a historic objective of a nuclear-free Korea peninsula by peaceful means,” Pence said.

“We are encouraged by the steps that China has taken so far,” he said at a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Earlier this week, Trump praised Chinese efforts to rein in “the menace of North Korea” after North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty preemptive strike”.

Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his resort in Florida earlier this month and, while taking a hard line with North Korea, has focused his efforts on trying to convince China to put more pressure on its ally and neighbor.

However, Trump has also ordered what he has described as an “armada” to waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning to North Korea. There was some confusion about the whereabouts of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group earlier this week.

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