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Pence reassures Japan as North Korea threatens 'weekly' tests

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TOKYO (AFP): US Vice President Mike Pence reiterated his country's commitment to the security of Japan, as North Korea intensified concerns over its weapons programme with a vow to launch missile tests "every week".

The North, which is intent on developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States, defied international pressure Sunday with a test that failed immediately after launch.

As fears grow that it may also be preparing for its sixth nuclear weapons test, Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-Ryol said that its programme would only escalate.

"We'll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis," Han told the BBC in an interview, threatening "all-out war" if the US took any action against it.

Arriving in Tokyo for talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Pence hailed the two countries' longstanding security ties.

"The alliance between the United States and Japan is the cornerstone of peace and security in Northeast Asia," he told Abe.

The Japanese leader called for a peaceful resolution to the North Korea tensions but did not rule out the need for tough measures.

"It is a matter of paramount importance for us to seek diplomatic efforts as well as peaceable settlements of the issue," he said.

"At the same time dialogue for the sake of dialogue is valueless and it is necessary for us to exercise pressure."

In South Korea on the first leg of an Asian tour, Pence on Monday visited the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone separating the two Koreas and warned Pyongyang against further provocations, saying "all options are on the table".

North Korea could react to a potential US strike by targeting South Korea or Japan, and officials in both countries have been ill at ease with the more bellicose language deployed by President Donald Trump's administration.

Pence pointed to Trump's recent strikes on a Syrian airbase and an Islamic State complex in Afghanistan as a warning to Pyongyang not to underestimate the administration's resolve.

Throughout his bareknuckle election campaign, Trump repeatedly called into question a mutual defence treaty between Japan and the United States, suggesting Tokyo should pay for its own security.

But now, Pence will try to reassure his jittery hosts that those decades-old security commitments are ironclad, a necessity made more acute after Washington's refusal to rule out military action against the regime.

Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have soared in recent weeks as a series of North Korean missile tests have prompted ever-more severe warnings from Trump's administration.

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