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US, Japan, South Korea meet in Hawaii to discuss North Korea

HONOLULU (AP) – United States (US) Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Japanese and South Korean counterparts Saturday in Hawaii to discuss the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea after Pyongyang began the year with a series of missile tests.

Blinken said at a news conference after the meeting that North 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 said 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 North Korea, but didn’t offer specifics.

The three released a joint statement calling on North Korea to engage in dialogue and cease its “unlawful activities”. They said they had no hostile intent towards North Korea and were open to meeting Pyongyang without preconditions.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks towards South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong (L) following their meeting in Hawaii. PHOTO: AFP

Hayashi later told Japanese reporters the three ministers had “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 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 US-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 programme, but it has offered open-ended talks.

North Korea has rebuffed US offers to resume diplomacy, saying it won’t return to talks unless Washington drops what it says are hostile polices. The North bristles at both the sanctions and regular military exercises the US 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 US territory of Guam.

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