North Korea on US agenda in Seoul under shadow of Gaza and Ukraine
Secretary of State Antony Blinken assures region of US’s continued commitment despite global challenges
US secretary of state Antony Blinken held talks in South Korea on Thursday about the growing military ties between North Korea and Russia, while he maintained efforts to broker humanitarian pauses in the Israel-Hamas war and long-term solutions for Gaza.
Blinken arrived in South Korea on Wednesday after a meeting in Japan of Group of Seven (G7) foreign ministers who called for pauses in the fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians in Gaza after a month of bombardment and intensifying ground operations by Israel’s military.
Blinken’s two-day visit to South Korea is the first by a US secretary of state in two-and-a-half years and part of a broader Asia trip that will include a stop in India. He was in the Middle East before Japan.
The US remains focused on the Indo-Pacific region despite other global challenges, Blinken told a press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday, adding the US was capable of “running and chewing gum at the same time”.
Blinken met South Korea’s national security adviser, Cho Tae-yong, and condemned “provocative actions” by North Korea on the peninsula and Pyongyang shipping of munitions and other supplies to Russia, the US state department said.
Blinken is expected to meet South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol before talks with foreign minister Park Jin later on Thursday.
They will discuss a response to the growing military co-operation between North Korea and Russia, in particular North Korea’s suspected supply of arms for Russia’s use in its war on Ukraine.
Close allies the US, South Korea and Japan have condemned what they say is the flow of arms and military equipment from North Korea to Russia, adding that movements of cargo from the reclusive state to Russia was evidence.
North Korea and Russia have denied any arms deals though their leaders pledged closer military co-operation when they met in September in Russia’s far east.
Blinken’s visit comes ahead of trip by US defence secretary Lloyd Austin at the weekend and an annual meeting with South Korea’s defence minister on Monday in which they are expected to discuss upgrading the so-called extended deterrence strategy, or the use of US strategic military assets including its nuclear forces to protect allies against attacks.
North Korea has been forthright about the development of its nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them, saying it has to defend itself from a belligerent US and South Korea.
The US has increased the deployment of aircraft carriers, long-range bombers and a nuclear submarine after the North resumed long-range missile tests and stepped up its denunciation of US and South Korean military exercises.
The G7 foreign ministers also condemned North Korea’s transfer of arms to Russia which they said was a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
The US and South Korea see the closer military ties between the North and Russia as an effort by North Korea to secure strategic military capabilities in return.
North Korea is preparing to launch a spy satellite after having failed twice this year to put one in orbit. South Korea said last week Pyongyang was in the final stages of preparations for a launch after apparently getting technical help from Russia.
South Korea’s military said on Monday it was on alert after North Korea designated November 18 as “missile industry day” to mark its launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile last year.
Blinken is expected to be met by a group of South Korean protesters when he arrives for talks with Park at the foreign ministry. They are demanding Israel agrees to a ceasefire and stop its occupation of Gaza.