US, South Korea urge North to return to talks after missile tests

Diplomats say Seoul and Washington agree to the need for a ‘strong response’ to North Korea’s tests, but are open to dialogue.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, left, shakes hands with South Korea's Special Representative for the Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Noh Kyu-duk as they pose for a photo during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul.
US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim (left) meets his South Korean counterpart, Noh Kyu-duk, in Seoul on Monday, the same day the countries kicked off joint military drills [Ahn Young-joon/Pool via AP Photo]

The United States’ special envoy for North Korea has said that Washington and Seoul agree on the need for “a strong response” to North Korea’s recent spate of missile tests, though they remain open to dialogue with the country.

Sung Kim and his deputy, Jung Pak, met South Korean officials, including nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk, after arriving in Seoul early on Monday for a five-day visit.

The talks come a day after North Korean state media reported that leader Kim Jong Un had observed the test firing of a “new type of tactical guided weapon” aimed at boosting the country’s nuclear capabilities. It was North Korea’s 13th round of firings so far this year.

“We agreed on the need for a strong response to the destabilising behaviour we have seen” from North Korea, US envoy Kim told reporters after meeting with his South Korean counterpart. “[We] also agreed on the need to maintain the strongest possible joint deterrent capability on the peninsula.”

US-led diplomacy to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for economic and political rewards has been largely stalemated since 2019, when former President Donald Trump walked out of a summit meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The Hwasong-17 - black with a white nose cone - launches into the sky amid smoke and orange flame
North Korea last month tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasongpho-17 [KCNA/Handout via AFP]

The US has said it is open to talks with North Korea at any time and without conditions, but Pyongyang has so far rebuffed those overtures, accusing Washington of maintaining hostile policies such as sanctions and military drills.

Kim’s arrival in Seoul coincided with the start of a nine-day annual joint military drill by US and South Korean forces. The exercise consists of “defensive command post training using computer simulation” and will not involve field manoeuvres by troops, South Korea’s military said on Sunday.

South Korea’s nuclear envoy, Noh Kyu-duk, said he and Kim shared concerns that North Korea will likely continue to engage in acts that raise regional tensions. He urged North Korea to return to talks.

Kim said the allies “have not closed the door on diplomacy” with North Korea and have “no hostile intent” towards the country. He repeated his earlier statement that US diplomats are ready to meet North Korea “anywhere, without any conditions”.

North Korea has previously responded to joint US-South Korean military drills with missile tests and war-like rhetoric. On Sunday, it said it had tested a new tactical, guided weapon a day earlier that would boost its nuclear strike capability.

Analysts said the weapon was likely a short-range ballistic missile that can be mounted with a tactical nuclear warhead capable of targeting South Korea.

Last month, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching the continental US in its first long-range weapons test since November 2017.

“It is extremely important for the United Nations Security Council to send a clear signal to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] that we will not accept its escalatory test as normal,” Kim said on Monday.

Source: News Agencies