US defence chief calls on North Korea to avoid provocations

South Korean soldiers standing guard at a guard post in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea, in Hwacheon on Aug 26, 2015.
South Korean soldiers standing guard at a guard post in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea, in Hwacheon on Aug 26, 2015.PHOTO: AFP/YONHAP

DEMILITARISED ZONE, South Korea (AFP) - US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Sunday (Nov 1) visited the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) dividing the Korean peninsula and renewed calls for North Korea to avoid provocations and step away from its nuclear programme.

On a brief trip to the heavily mined area that for 60 years has been a buffer between the Koreas, Carter and South Korean Defence Minister Han Min Koo stood atop a hill known as Observation Post Ouellette - the closest post to the demarcation line between the two nations.

Carter later said the United States remains committed to the so-called six-party talks process that seek the denuclearisation of the peninsula.

"That remains our policy," he told reporters. "We remain committed to achieving that negotiated outcome with North Korea, and believe that they should be on the path of doing less - and ultimately zero - in the nuclear field, not to be doing more."

Carter, wearing a casual black jacket and hiking shoes, spent about 10 minutes peering at the fence and wooded area that lead into North Korea. South Korean troops dotted the perimeter, staring intently towards their northern neighbour.

North Korea has carried out three nuclear tests and has explicitly indicated its intention to carry out a fourth.

It abandoned the six-party talks, which also grouped South Korea, China, Russia, the US and Japan, in April 2009.

Carter's visit to the DMZ was his first international stop on an eight-day trip mainly focused on the Asia-Pacific.

He will meet leaders from more than a dozen nations across East and South Asia. Officially, his mission is intended to help push the next phase of America's foreign policy "rebalance" to the strategically important region.

But a central theme is likely to be China's construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea and its claims of sovereignty over almost the entire waterway.

Later Sunday, he will attend a US-South Korea security meeting in Seoul, and leaves Monday for an Asean defence ministers' meeting in Kuala Lumpur.