North Korea, denuclearization top agenda as Austin, Blinken talk with counterparts in Seoul
March 18, 2021
North Korea and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula topped a list of issues the U.S. secretaries of State and Defense tackled with their South Korean counterparts during meetings this week in Seoul.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin held a press conference with South Korea’s defense minister, Suh Wook, and foreign minister, Chung Eui-yong, following Thursday’s so-called 2+2 talks.
The allies’ goals are clear, Blinken said: the denuclearization of North Korea, reducing the threat that country presents and “improving the lives of all Koreans, including North Koreans who suffer systematic abuses at the hands of their leaders.”
The ministers’ discussion also focused on diplomatic efforts to resolve the nuclear issue and the need for a strategy that includes Japan, Chung said.
There is potential for future diplomacy with North Korea, Blinken said, adding that China has a critical role to play in working to convince North Korea to denuclearize.
“Virtually all of North Korea’s economic relationships, its trade, go through China,” he said.
Readiness remains the top priority for U.S. forces on the peninsula, Austin told reporters.
Asked about the impact of scaled back joint military exercises on the peninsula, a change enacted in 2018 after former President Donald Trump’s first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Austin said the military is always looking for ways to make training better.
“We have looked to be flexible; we have looked to be adaptive and we have always been effective,” he said, adding that future training on the peninsula will be determined in coordination with South Korea.
Meanwhile, North Korea announced it would disregard any U.S. offer of dialogue unless it changes its “hostile policy,” after Washington contacted Pyongyang in an effort to restart nuclear talks.
North Korea’s foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, issued a statement rejecting the offer Thursday as the U.S. and South Korean officials met in Seoul.
"What has been heard from the U.S. since the emergence of the new regime is only a lunatic theory of 'threat from North Korea' and groundless rhetoric about 'complete denuclearization,'" Choe said, calling the offer for talks a "time-delaying trick.”
He repeated Pyongyang’s position that no "dialogue of any kind" is possible unless the U.S. dials back its hostility.
Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.