In Hawaii, Blinken aims for a united front with allies in North Korea

HONOLULU – Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken and the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan on Saturday presented a united front against North Korean forces. Recent missile testswhich the state has been conducting at the fastest pace in years.

“I think it’s clear to all of us that the DPRK is going through a phase of provocation,” Mr. Blinken said at a press conference in Honolulu on the afternoon of the meetings. He said the three countries “will continue to hold the DPRK accountable,” using the abbreviation of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

But the three officials said their governments were open to talks with North Korea, even as they condemned recent tests. “We reiterated that diplomacy and dialogue with North Korea is more important than ever,” South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said.

Mr. Blinken’s appearance with Mr. Chung and Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan’s foreign minister, was a signaling moment in the Biden administration’s efforts to defuse a potential crisis with North Korea.

Disagreements recently between the governments of South Korea and Japan over how to deal with the North. Seoul wants to offer more diplomatic temptations to Pyongyang, while Tokyo is calling for a tougher stance, leaning more toward tougher UN sanctions.

So far this year, North Korea has conducted seven missile tests, more than the entire year of 2021.

Officials in the United States and its allies were particularly concerned about this January 30 test in the northwhich they said is a medium-range ballistic missile, the most powerful missile the country has tested since 2017. It raised the specter of a return to President Donald J. Trump’s first-year tensions, when the North tested long-range missiles and a nuclear device, and Mr. Trump threatened to launch ” Fire and Fury” on the other hand.

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Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, recently suggested that he might end an optional comment on testing such powerful weapons. Last month, North Korean state media reported that Kim had done so Officials order To “examine the issue of immediately restarting all temporarily suspended activities”, most likely a reference to the moratorium.

Some analysts said Kim and other officials may have already decided a course of action, but their intentions remained vague.

“We have data points. We have a bunch of bones, but we don’t know how the skeletons fit together or in which direction they are going,” said Robert Carlin, a former US intelligence analyst in North Korea.

The meetings in Honolulu were intended not only to discuss North Korea, but also to try to calm tensions between Japan and South Korea, with the United States playing the role of conciliator.

There are long-standing differences between the two countries over historical issues arising from World War II and Japan’s former status as the colonial ruler of South Korea. In November, Blinken’s deputy Wendy Sherman met in Washington with her counterparts from both countries, but disputes between South Korean and Japanese officials led to her holding an awkward solo press conference afterward.

By that measure, Saturday’s press conference in Honolulu was an improvement, although the three officials said nothing substantive about the tensions between Japan and South Korea. They discussed growing differences in the region over China’s territorial claims and Economic coercion of smaller neighbours.

But the urgent issue was North Korea. Mr. Chung emphasized President Moon Jae-in of South Korea’s belief in the importance of diplomatic engagement with North Korea. Mr. Moon, who helped bring about the historic direct talks between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump, hopes to make inter-Korean reconciliation a centerpiece of his legacy.

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South Korea holds presidential elections in March, and Moon’s successor could take a different approach. US officials say they are closely monitoring the candidates’ attitudes toward North Korea.

Mr. Hayashi emphasized that Japan is also open to diplomacy, and emphasized that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was ready to meet Mr. Kim without preconditions – a position taken by the leaders of the three countries. But he said North Korea must also address some issues critical to Japan, including past kidnappings of Japanese nationals.

Last month, after North Korea began its latest series of missile tests, the State Department called on the United Nations to impose new sanctions on the country. But China and Russia blocked the proposal.

US officials say they have tried various ways to engage with North Korea in the hope of resuming diplomacy, which has stalled since the failed summit between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2019. But they said they heard nothing back from the North, which has shut itself off to the world. The outside is more than usual since the pandemic began.

“We have no hostile intent toward the DPRK,” Mr. Blinken said on Saturday. “We remain open to dialogue without preconditions if Pyongyang chooses this path.”

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Mr. Blinken’s last stop in Hawaii was on a week-long trip through the Asia-Pacific region, following visits to Australia and Fiji. The goal was to confirm that Asia is too in the center of President Biden’s foreign policy.

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