US emphasizes allied cooperation in face of North Korea threats

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SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with her counterparts from South Korea and Japan on Wednesday, underscoring the United States’ commitment to defending its allies and trilateral security cooperation to deal with a growing nuclear threat from North Korea.

The latest high-level meetings between the countries have taken place as North Korea apparently continues preparations for its first nuclear test in nearly five years, which US officials say could take place in the coming days.

After a meeting in Seoul, Sherman and the vice foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan issued a joint statement condemning North Korea’s provocative streak of weapons protests this year and pledging further cooperation. close in terms of security to limit growing threats.

The statement said Sherman reaffirmed the United States’ “unwavering” commitments to the defense of South Korea and Japan, including “extended deterrence,” referring to an assurance to defend its allies with all military capabilities. , including nuclear.

“The United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan are fully and closely aligned with the DPRK,” Sherman told a news conference, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the People’s Republic. Democratic Republic of Korea.

Sherman noted that North Korea since last September has dramatically increased the pace and scale of its ballistic launches, posing a “serious threat” to security in the region and beyond, and urged Pyongyang to stop taking “these provocative and destabilizing actions and to engage in the path of diplomacy.

Shaking an old pattern of precariousness, North Korea has already set an annual ballistic launch record in the first six months of 2022, firing 31 missiles in 18 test runs, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrations since 2017.

The unusually fast pace of testing activity underscores authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over long-running negotiations to leverage its nuclear weapons for concessions. economic and security, according to experts.

Sherman’s visit to Asia came after North Korea, in its biggest one-day test event, launched eight ballistic missiles into the sea from multiple locations on Sunday, prompting the United States and its Asian allies to respond with tit-for-tat and aerial missile launches. demonstrations involving dozens of fighter planes.

A nuclear test would further intensify North Korea’s pressure campaign and could possibly allow the country to claim that it has acquired the technologies needed to build a bomb small enough to pack on a multiple-warhead ICBM or on the wide range of Kim’s shorter-range weapons threatening South Korea. and Japan.

South Korean and US officials said the North had virtually completed preparations for an explosion at its nuclear testing ground in the remote northeastern town of Punggye-ri, according to an assessment backed by the International Atomic Energy, which says there are indications that one of the site’s passages have been reopened. The site had been inactive since hosting the country’s sixth nuclear test in September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb designed for its ICBMs.

North Korea will likely time the test to maximize political effect and some analysts say it could take place around a major conference of the ruling Workers’ Party that has been loosely scheduled for the first half of June.

North Korean state media said on Wednesday that members of the Politburo met a day early to discuss the agenda for an upcoming plenary meeting of the party’s Central Committee which was called by Kim to consider major affairs of state, including national efforts to slow an outbreak of COVID-19. He could also use the meeting to address his nuclear weapons ambitions and his foreign relations with Washington and Seoul, experts say.

Kim’s absence from Tuesday’s preparatory meeting suggests he is focused on overseeing preparations for North Korea’s seventh nuclear test and writing his speeches for the plenary, analyst Cheong Seong- said. Chang from the Sejong Institute in South Korea.

North Korea’s previous party plenary in December lasted a record five days and saw Kim repeat his vow to boost his country’s military capabilities and order the production of more powerful and sophisticated weapons systems.

Nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea have stalled since 2019 due to disagreements over an easing of crippling sanctions imposed by the United States in exchange for North Korean disarmament measures, which underlined the Kim’s reluctance to hand over an arsenal he considers his best guarantee of survival.

Kim’s administration has so far rejected offers from the Biden administration for open talks and clearly intends to convert the dormant denuclearization talks into a mutual arms reduction process, experts say.

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