SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The United States and South Korea closed ranks behind common approaches to North Korea, Russia and China on Thursday, vowing to continue to support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion and boosting humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza caught in Israel’s war against Hamas.
In talks with South Korea’s leadership, including President Yoon Suk Yeol, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the growing threat posed by North Korea and its alleged provision of military equipment and munitions to Russia to help it wage war on Ukraine, the State Department said. They also spoke of the importance of U.S.-South Korea cooperation on global challenges, including China’s assertiveness and the instability in the Middle East.
“They shared concerns about the DPRK’s provocations in the region and strongly condemned the provision of military equipment and munitions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the Russian Federation for use in its war against Ukraine,” the State Department said of Blinken’s meeting with Yoon, referring to North Korea by its formal name. The Blinken-Yoon meeting also covered improving relations between South Korea and Japan as well as the importance of three-way cooperation between Washington, Tokyo and Seoul, the State Department said,
At a news conference later with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, Blinken said they discussed unspecified further actions the countries could take to intensify pressure on Moscow not to transfer military technology to North Korea in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.
North Korea has been supplying artillery shells and other munitions to Russia in recent months to fuel its war efforts in Ukraine, U.S. and South Korean officials have said, and they suspect that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could be seeking Russian technologies and other assistance in return to upgrade his own military.
“We’re seeing a two-way street. We’re seeing the DPRK provide military equipment to Russia for its brutal aggression against Ukraine but we’re also seeing Russia provide technological support to the DPRK for its own military programs and that’s a real concern for the security of Korea,” Blinken said.
Blinken also criticized North Korea’s ramped up missile testing activity in recent months, which included events it characterized as simulated attacks on South Korea involving tactical nuclear weapons, saying the North is “increasingly engaged in threatening irresponsible rhetoric.”
“We’ve seen the DPRK missile launches, pursue weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile capabilities all of which are in violent violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. They’re also dangerous and destabilizing,” he said.
Both diplomats urged China — North Korea’s main ally and economic lifeline — to take a greater role in pulling the North back from destabilizing behavior, with Park arguing that the potential arms alignment between Russia and North Korea would go against Beijing’s interests.
Park also addressed concerns that North Korea could consider providing weapons and other assistance to Hamas, a possibility that has been raised by South Korean officials in recent weeks.
North Korea, which has blamed the United States for the violence in Israel and Gaza, has a history of selling weapons to Hamas. South Korea’s military told reporters last month that North Korean-made rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons were likely used by Hamas during their Oct. 7 assault on Israel.
During a closed-door briefing to lawmakers last week, South Korea’s main spy agency said it believes that Kim, the North Korean leader, instructed officials to “comprehensively support” the Palestinians and that the North could be considering selling weapons to militant groups in the Middle East, according to Yoo Sang-bum, one of the lawmakers who attended.
“If any relationship between North Korea and Hamas is revealed then North Korea should be condemned accordingly,” Park said. “This crisis that is unfolding in the Middle East is related potentially to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”
The surprise attack on Israel by Hamas has raised concerns in South Korea about the possibility of a similar assault by North Korea and prompted the Yoon government to openly discuss suspending a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement on reducing border tensions to strengthen front-line surveillance on the North. Without elaborating on what was discussed, Blinken said he talked about the inter-Korean agreement during his meetings with South Korean officials and that the allies may further discuss the issue when U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin comes to Seoul for a security meeting next week.
Tensions between the Koreas are at their highest point in years as the pace of both North Korea’s weapons tests and South Korea’s combined military exercises with the United States have intensified in a tit-for-tat cycle. Before Blinken’s arrival, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency condemned the visit as well as the upcoming one by Austin, describing them as “warmongers” bringing a “new war cloud” to Asia.
Blinken arrived in Seoul following a G7 foreign ministers meeting in Japan that previewed much of what he was to discuss.
“We reiterate our call for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons, existing nuclear programs, and any other WMD and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner in accordance with all relevant UN Security Council resolutions,” the G7 ministers said.
Both North Korea and Russia have denied the accusations that North Korea has been providing Russia with munitions.
On China, the G7 adopted a very similar line to that held by the U.S. — that members are willing to work productively with Beijing as long as it respects international rules and regulations.
“We underscore that China has a responsibility to uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter in their entirety,” the ministers said. “We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas, strongly opposing any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion,” the G7 said.
U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping next week on the sideline of the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum summit in San Francisco.