U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Japanese and South Korean counterparts Saturday in Hawaii and discussed the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea after Pyongyang began the year testing a series of missile.
Blinken said at a press meet following the meeting that N. Korea was “in a phase of provocation” and the three countries condemned the recent missile launches.
“We are absolutely united in our approach, in our determination,” Blinken remarked after his talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong.
He said the countries were “very closely consulting” on further steps they may take in response to the communist Korea, but didn’t elaborate. Releasing a joint press statement the three called on N. Korea government to engage in dialogue and end its “unlawful activities.” They said they had no hostile intent toward North Korea and were open to meeting Pyongyang without preconditions.
Hayashi later told Japanese reporters the three ministers had a “very fruitful” discussion on the North. He declined to give details on additional measures they may take.
North Korea has a long history of using provocations such as a missile or nuclear tests to seek international concessions. The latest tests come as the North’s economy, already battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions, is hit hard by pandemic border closures.
Many see the tests as an attempt to pressure President Joe Biden’s administration into easing the sanctions. The Biden administration has shown no willingness to do so without meaningful cuts to the North’s nuclear program, but it has offered open-ended talks.
North Korea has rebuffed the U.S. offers to resume diplomacy, saying it won’t return to talks unless Washington drops what it says are hostile policies. The North bristles at both the sanctions and regular military exercises the U.S. holds with South Korea.
The tests also have a technical component, allowing North Korea to hone its weapons arsenal. One of the missiles recently tested — the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile — is capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam. It was the longest distance weapon the North has tested since 2017. North Korea appears to be pausing its tests during the Winter Olympics in China, its most important ally and economic lifeline. But analysts believe North Korea will dramatically increase its weapons testing after the Olympics.