North Korea said on Thursday it would ignore all efforts by the United States to foster contact or dialogue while Washington pursued what it described as a “hostile policy”, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said both pressure and diplomatic options are on the table in dealing with Pyongyang.
The North’s first Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui spoke as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin were in the South on the second leg of a northeast Asian tour designed to bolster a united front on the North and an increasingly assertive China.
The pair have repeatedly called for the “complete denuclearisation of North Korea” on their trip, which began in Japan.
There could be no contact nor dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang “unless the US rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK”, Choe said in a statement carried on Thursday by the official Korean Central News Agency, referring to the North by its official name.
“Therefore, we will disregard such an attempt of the US in the future, too.”
The “new regime” in the US, she added, had only put forward a “lunatic theory of ‘threat from north Korea’ and groundless rhetoric about ‘complete denuclearisation’.”
Choe acknowledged that the US had recently tried to initiate contact, but blasted the attempts as a “cheap trick”.
In response to the latest statement from Pyongyang, Secretary of State Blinken told a joint briefing on Thursday with South Korean officials in Seoul that the administration of President Joe Biden would complete its review of North Korea policy in the next few weeks in close consultation with its allies.
“The ministers and secretaries emphasized that North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile issues are a priority for the alliance, and reaffirmed a shared commitment to address and resolve these issues,” they said in the statement.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Seoul, said that while the US and South Korea agrees on the aim of denuclearisation in North Korea, the two allied countries differ on how it can be achieved.
‘Seriously rattled us’
Pyongyang has closed its borders for more than a year to try to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic that first emerged in neighbouring China.
It has kept silent since Biden took office in January, with state media not even mentioning the new US leadership until this week.
Blinken’s comments in Japan had “seriously rattled us”, Choe said.
“We are curious what senseless rhetoric he would make in South Korea to take the world by surprise.”
Al Jazeera’s McBride said that with the latest “stern words” from Pyongyang, it is putting an emphasis on the US “to take the next step in their relationship.”
Great to meet today with ROK Foreign Minister Chung. The U.S.-ROK Alliance is essential to addressing shared challenges and defending shared values in Northeast Asia, the #IndoPacific region, and across the world. pic.twitter.com/bZ69aABMxB
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) March 17, 2021
Blinken and Austin held joint talks with their counterparts on Thursday and in the afternoon were due to meet President Moon Jae-in, who brokered the talks process between Kim and then-US President Donald Trump in 2018.
On Wednesday, Blinken also accused Pyongyang of committing “systemic and widespread abuses” against its own people as he reiterated the US stand on North Korean denuclearisation.
The two American officials are in the midst of a review of Washington’s policy towards the North.
‘Meeting of equals’
Trump’s unorthodox approach to foreign policy saw him trade insults and threats of war with Kim Jong Un before an extraordinary diplomatic rapport that saw a series of headline-grabbing meetings, beginning in Singapore.
But ultimately no progress was made towards Washington’s declared aim of denuclearising North Korea, with a second summit in Hanoi in early 2019 breaking up over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.
The North remains under multiple international sanctions for its banned weapons programmes, which it says it needs to deter a possible US invasion.
Shortly before Biden’s January inauguration, Kim condemned the US as his country’s “foremost principal enemy” and Pyongyang unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile at a military parade.
Choe said on Thursday that for talks to take place, Pyongyang and Washington would have to meet as equals.
“We make it clear that we won’t give it such opportunities as in Singapore and Hanoi again,” she said.
Since mid-February, Washington has attempted to reach out to Pyongyang “through several channels”, State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter said earlier this week.
“To date, we’ve not received any response from Pyongyang,” she said.