US rejects 'freeze-for-freeze' proposal from China, Russia to break North Korea impasse

WASHINGTON - The United States has rejected a joint proposal from China and Russia that the US and South Korea suspend joint military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting nuclear and missile tests, reported South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

After summit talks in Moscow earlier this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin made the so-called "freeze-for-freeze" proposal in an effort to defuse escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said at a regular briefing on Thursday: "There's no equivalency between the United States and its activities and actions that it undertakes with its allies, including South Korea and also Japan. These are something that are lawful," she said at a regular briefing.

As a result, she said, the US opposes a Russian-Chinese plan calling for both sides to freeze their activities.

The US wants China to do much more to increase pressure on North Korea over its nuclear arms and ballistic missile programs and will continue to urge Beijing to curb Pyongyang's activities, the State Department said on Thursday.

In March, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking on the sidelines of China's annual parliamentary meeting, had made the same suggestion to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula

"China's suggestion is, as a first step, for North Korea to suspend nuclear and missile activities, and for the U.S. and South Korea to also suspend large-scale military drills," he said, likening North Korea and the US to two "accelerating trains coming toward each other".

North Korea has long called for an end to annual joint exercises between the U.S. and the South, denouncing the drills as a rehearsal for invasion. Washington and Seoul have rejected the demand, saying the exercises are purely defensive, reported Reuters.

North Korea said it tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Tuesday and experts said it appeared to be of a type capable of hitting all of Alaska, prompting renewed U.S. calls for global diplomatic action.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis said the latest launch doesn't necessarily bring the two nations closer to war, even as President Donald Trump announced that he is weighing some "pretty severe things" in response.

"I don't believe this capability in itself brings us closer to war," Gen Mattis told reporters on Thursday at the Pentagon.

The US has said it will propose new UN sanctions in response to the test, but it is unclear whether China and Russia will support these.

Unlike Washington, neither Moscow nor Beijing have described the missile used in the test as an ICBM.