Australia, New Zealand deploy aircraft to Japan to help enforce North Korea sanctions

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and New Zealand's Foreign Minister Winston Peters visit the Cabinet War rooms in central London, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

WELLINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia and New Zealand said on Friday their governments were deploying three maritime patrol aircraft to Japan to assist with efforts to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

Australia will add two AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft to conduct maritime surveillance to an existing aircraft deployed earlier in the year, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said in a statement.

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said his government was deploying an Air Force P-3K2 plane to carry out patrols of international waters in North Asia for signs of vessels undertaking activities that break U.N. sanctions against North Korea, including ship-to-ship transfers.

"We welcome the recent dialogue North Korea has had with the United States and South Korea. However, until such time as North Korea abides by its international obligations, full implementation of the United Nations Security Council sanctions resolutions will be essential," Peters said.

The aircraft would be based at Kadena Air Base in Japan, he added.

The United States has been pressuring North Korea via sanctions to give up its nuclear weapons programme and in August penalized two Russian shipping companies and six vessels it said were involved in the transfer of refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels in violation of UN restrictions.

The United States and North Korea are involved in talks intended to ease tensions between them, and U.S. President Donald Trump met with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in June.

Since then relations have cooled and a planned visit by the top U.S. diplomat to North Korea was scrapped last week because Trump said insufficient progress towards denuclearisation had been made.

The move by Australia was a "continuation" of the country's "strong stand to deter and disrupt illicit trade and sanctions evasion activities by North Korea and its associated networks," Pyne said.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Wellington and Paulina Duran in Sydney; editing by Sandra Maler and James Dalgleish)