WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama will discuss the growing threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea at a meeting this week with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, the White House said on Monday (March 28).
The trilateral sit-down on Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye will take place on the sidelines of a wider nuclear security summit bringing together delegations from dozens of countries.
It has been scheduled for the same day Mr Obama holds one-on-one talks with Mr Xi Jinping, the president of North Korea's main diplomatic ally and economic benefactor, China.
"This meeting will be an opportunity for the three leaders to discuss common responses to the threat posed by North Korea and to advance areas of trilateral security cooperation in the region and globally," the White House said.
In his talks with Ms Park and Mr Abe, Mr Obama is sure to discuss the ramped-up rhetoric coming from North Korea, which carried out a nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch a month later, triggering new international sanctions.
In recent weeks, North Korea has claimed a series of key technical breakthroughs in its development of a long-range nuclear strike capability, and conducted its first test firing in two years of a medium-range ballistic missile.
Experts say the claims are likely a mix of fact and exaggeration. However, there is a consensus that North Korea is making steady progress towards its goal of developing an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can accurately deliver a nuclear bomb as far as the continental United States.
That threat will loom large on the agenda of Thursday's trilateral meeting as well as Mr Obama's talks with Mr Xi.
US policymakers have pushed Beijing to put pressure on Pyongyang to stop its nuclear provocations, but China is concerned about the stability of its unpredictable neighbour.
North Korea, meanwhile, has labelled Mr Obama's hosting of the two-day nuclear security summit in Washington as an act of "shameful" hypocrisy.
"The US and its South Korean puppet group are going to use the above-said summit as a means for ratcheting up the sanctions against (North Korea), and finding fault with its legitimate access to nuclear weapons," the North's official KCNA news agency said in a commentary.
"It is ridiculous for the US and its followers to hold such a nonsensical summit," it said.
The summit itself will not address issues related to North Korea's recent weapons tests, with the fear that Islamic State militants could obtain nuclear material expected to weigh more heavily on the agenda.