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Tillerson urges ASEAN to limit NoKor ties

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Thursday to do more to help cut funding streams for North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and to minimize diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

In his first ministerial meeting with all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Tillerson also called on nations with competing claims in the South China Sea to cease all island building and militarization while talks aimed at creating a maritime code of conduct were under way.

Patrick Murphy, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said Tillerson stressed Washington’s security and economic commitment to the region, amid doubts raised by President Donald Trump’s “America First” platform and withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact.

Tillerson called on ASEAN countries to fully implement U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang, which is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the United States, and to show a united front on the issue, Murphy said.

“We think that more can be done, not just in Southeast Asia,” he told reporters. “We are encouraging continued and further steps across all of ASEAN.”

Last week, Tillerson called on all countries to suspend or downgrade diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, saying that North Korea abuses diplomatic privileges to help fund its arms programs. Tillerson also warned that Washington would sanction foreign firms and people conducting business with North Korea if countries did not act themselves.

All ASEAN members have diplomatic relations with North Korea and five have embassies there.

Murphy said Washington was not encouraging ASEAN states to formally cut ties, but to examine the North Korean presence “where it clearly exceeds diplomatic needs.”