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Korean defense chief to focus on N. Korea in ASEAN security forum

CLARK, Philippines -- South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo prepared Monday for a round of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy in Clark, the Philippines, on North Korea and other regional security issues.

He's visiting the Clark Freeport Zone, northwest of Manila, to attend the 4th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus.

The Philippines, the chair of ASEAN meetings this year, is hosting the 11th ADMM and the expanded ADMM-Plus session that also includes eight dialogue partners: South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Australia, India and New Zealand.

South Korea-China row over the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system. (Yonhap)
South Korea-China row over the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system. (Yonhap)

Speaking at the plenary meeting of the ADMM-Plus on Tuesday, the fourth of its kind, Song plans to review the security conditions on the Korean Peninsula and stress the importance of international cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue, according to his aides.

This will be Song's debut at a multilateral security conference as South Korea's defense minister. He took office in July.

He also plans to hold bilateral talks with his American and Japanese counterparts -- Itsunori Onodera and James Mattis on Monday afternoon.

They will then have a trilateral meeting.

"It's the first time for the three figures to hold a meeting," a ministry official told reporters in a background briefing. "They will deliver a grave message against North Korea's nuclear and missile development, while emphasizing the need for international security cooperation."

The three sides will issue a joint press statement to sum up the results of their discussions, he added.

 Song and Mattis are due to meet each other again in Seoul again on the weekend for the annual Security Consultative Meeting of the allies, in which North Korea will be a top agenda item.

Last week, a key North Korean diplomat said the Kim Jong-un regime will stick to its nuclear arsenal.

The US will have to "put up" with the reality that Pyongyang possesses nuclear weapons, Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North American department of the North's foreign ministry, told a nonproliferation conference in Moscow last week.

"This is a matter of life and death for us," she said. "We will respond to fire with fire."

Her remarks add to skepticism that negotiations will resume anytime soon on the communist nation's nuclear program despite more than a month of a hiatus in its provocations.

South Korean defense officials say that the North apparently has both "technological needs" and political motivation to carry out additional provocations.

They predict that the North may press ahead with a "real-distance" intercontinental ballistic missile launch following a host of mid-range missile launches.

They do not rule out the possibility of the North firing a submarine-based ballistic missile or conducting another nuclear test by the end of this year.

In the ADMM on Monday, the ASEAN ministers will voice grave concerns about North Korea's nuclear and missile program, according to a draft of their joint declaration.

They will also urge Pyongyang to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions aimed at punishing the regime for its provocations.

South Korea, the US and Japan had their previous tripartite defense ministerial talks in Singapore in early June, when they participated in the Asia Security Summit, better known as the Shanggri-La Dialogue. Song's predecessor Han Min-koo attended it.

The ADMM-Plus, launched in 2010, is held every two or three years.

It's a conference on a broad range of regional security issues, including maritime security, a fight against terrorism and cybersecurity.

Some member states are seeking to hold the meeting each year. (Yonhap)