The US envoy for North Korea said Seoul and Washington have agreed to maintain the “strongest possible joint deterrence” amid rising missile and nuclear threats from Pyongyang as the two countries sat down for talks in the capital of South Korea on Monday.
Washington will act “responsible and decisively” in its response to the “escalatory actions” as North Korea flexes its artillery muscle in display of test missile launches towards Seoul and Tokyo, sparking concerns that Pyongyang is bracing to resume nuclear testing of weapons.
The two officials, US special representative Sung Kim and his deputy Jun Pak, met with South Korean officials, including nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk, on Monday as the former kickstarted their five-day visit in Seoul on Monday.
As the talks began, Mr Sung said, “We, of course, share your concerns about the DPRK’s escalatory actions and we will continue to work closely to respond responsibly and decisively to the provocative behaviour”, referring directly to the hermit nation by its official name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The US envoy added that his latest visit to North Korea’s neighbour and adversary was an "indication of our determination and commitment to maintain the closest possible coordination" between the allies amid developments in the North.
The high-level talks between Washington and South Korea come at the time of a nine-day annual joint military drill by the troops of both countries.
According to South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff, the military exercise comprises "defensive command post training using computer simulation" and will not involve field manoeuvres by troops”.
The joint drills have been condemned by North Korea, calling it rehearsals for war despite them being scaled back in recent years during efforts to get Pyongyang on the table for talks for diplomacy route. This also suffered a setback due to the pandemic.
In a first, North Korea on Saturday test fired missiles involved in delivering tactical nuclear weapons, suggesting its preparedness of work to restore the nation’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
The launch was observed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as it was being carried out from an undisclosed location.
It was confirmed by South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff who said that the officials in Seoul had detected two projectile launches from the North Korean eastern coastal town of Hamhung early on Saturday evening.
Officials said that the South Korean and US intelligence agencies were analysing additional details of the launches as the launch from Pyongyang triggered an emergency meeting amid South’s officials to discuss the incident.
Washington, however, has said that it is open to talks with North Korea which was reiterated by the US envoy who added that the diplomacy route remains available at any time and without preconditions.
North Korea, pressed heavily under sanctions, has refused to engage with Washington and in turn, amped up its display of missiles in the last one year, while accusing the US officials of engaging in hostile policies.
The envoy, however, stressed on allyship with South Korea during talks and said that the US is looking ahead to working closely with president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol who assumes office next month.