SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Australia's top diplomat visited the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas on Thursday and said her government hopes there will be no need for military action against North Korea over its weapons programs.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made the comments in an interview with The Associated Press after her visit to the Korean border village of Panmunjom with Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne. The two are in South Korea for talks with top officials on Friday.
Bishop said North Korean border guards came out of their building and took many photographs of her and other Australian officials during their Panmunjom visit. The North Koreans "seemed to have a great deal of interest in who we were and what we were doing," she said.
It's not unusual for North Korean soldiers to photograph or use binoculars to watch high-profile visitors at Panmunjom, which is inside the 248-kilometer (154-mile) -long heavily mined Demilitarized Zone that serves as a de facto border between the Koreas.
"It's always a tense situation, I understand," Bishop said. "The Korean War is still alive in the minds of many people." The 1950-53 war ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, and the two Koreas remain technically still at war.
Worries about a possible military clash between North Korea and the United States have grown recently among many in South Korea and elsewhere, with U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un trading insults and threats of attack over the North's nuclear weapon and missile programs.
North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September and test-launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July. It was subsequently slapped with tougher U.N. sanctions. North Korea has vowed not to back off, and outside analysts say it is a matter of time until it achieves its long-stated goal of possessing nuclear missiles capable of striking anywhere in the mainland United States.
Bishop said she knows the United States has long put all options, including military ones, on the table in response to the North Korean threat. She said Australia is working with other nations to place maximum pressure on North Korea but that "we hope there will be no need for a military option."
Bishop said Australia supports what she called "the tough sets of comprehensive sanctions" against North Korea, saying the North "will be deterred from carrying out any further illegal test" and "will be compelled to return to the negotiating table."