The United States and South Korea warned Monday of a quick response if North Korea conducted a nuclear test, including US military “adjustments,” but offered the talks again as a way out.
The allies say North Korea could at any time test its first nuclear weapon since 2017, after months of escalating tensions including missile tests and Pyongyang’s rejection of overtures from President Joe Biden’s administration.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who met his South Korean counterpart, said the United States is working with its allies in Tokyo and Seoul “to be able to respond quickly if the North Koreans embark on such a test.”
“And we stand ready to make short- and long-term adjustments to our military posture as necessary,” he said.
“Until the regime in Pyongyang changes course, we will continue to press.”
But Blinken reiterated that the United States had no “hostile intent” toward the North, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
We will continue to communicate with the DPRK. “We are committed to a diplomatic approach,” Blinken said.
Both Blinken and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said their government is ready to negotiate with Pyongyang “without preconditions.”
But Blinken acknowledged there has been no response from North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong-un has held three headline-grabbing summits with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump.
The Trump-Kim contest lowered tensions but did not result in a lasting agreement on North Korea’s nuclear program, and Biden indicated that any talks with his administration would be at a lower level.
Some North Korea watchers have seen a potential diplomatic opening in Pyongyang’s admission last month of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Blinken said again that the United States is ready to send vaccines to North Korea, after ignoring an earlier offer from Biden.
“Only the political decision” remains
Park said Kim was at a “crossroads” over another test and calling for more isolation and international sanctions.
“I think North Korea has now finished preparations for another nuclear test and I think the only political decision should be made,” Park said.
The United States tried to tighten sanctions on North Korea after it tested an ICBM in defiance of UN resolutions, but China and Russia objected to the offer in the Security Council.
Park said China, North Korea’s main ally, “should play a very positive role in persuading North Korea” not to conduct a nuclear test.
South Korea’s new president, Yoon Seok-yeol, is a conservative who campaigned with a tougher approach than his dove predecessor Moon Jae-in, but has also offered to hold talks.
“We are ready to take a more flexible and open approach to diplomacy toward North Korea,” he said.
Park also promised to improve cooperation with Japan, a US ally whose relations with Seoul had long been strained by Tokyo’s brutal colonial legacy of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
The Moon administration said in 2019 it would terminate a major intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, known as GSOMIA, though it agreed at the last minute to extend it “on terms” after an ultimatum in Washington.
“We want to normalize GSOMIA as soon as possible, along with improving Korea-Japan relations, in order to deal with the threat from North Korea,” Park said.
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