U.S.-Korea talks focus on possible provocation from North

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U.S.-Korea talks focus on possible provocation from North

In the first high-level strategic meeting between the United States and South Korea since the execution of Jang Song-thaek, the powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the two nations agreed to “be thoroughly prepared for all possible scenarios” in case of further provocations by Pyongyang.

Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kyou-hyun met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on Tuesday in Washington, where they discussed the recent situation in North Korea and reaffirmed cooperation with each other and other relevant countries on the issue.

Kim confirmed that the two exchanged views and saw eye to eye in future cases of provocation from North Korea following the purge of Jang.

“In relation to the execution of Jang Song-thaek, the situation in North Korea may become unstable, and North Korea may carry out further provocations,” Kim Kyou-hyun told reporters after the talks.

He added that it was necessary for Korea and the United States to bolster their joint defense posture and decide upon measures “to be thoroughly prepared to respond to any kind of scenario.”

They are currently working on a contingency plan in case of such incitement. Kim further said that Seoul and Washington are “in close consultation and exchanging information and analysis.”

“If the case suddenly progresses in an unexpected direction, Korea and the U.S. may take reinforced measures,” he added, saying the two countries were analyzing whether there will be “an internal change [in North Korea] or an impact on its policies.”

The U.S. State Department acknowledged in a statement yesterday that the two “exchanged views on recent developments in North Korea,” and that they “will continue to coordinate closely in our efforts toward the denuclearization of North Korea.”

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, added on Tuesday at a briefing that the United States has a number of contingency plans, including one in case of an abrupt change in North Korea’s situation. However, he said he could not elaborate on the details of the plan.

Carney stated that in evaluating the past two years of the Kim Jong-un regime, North Korea has proven to be more focused on a military buildup than the livelihoods of its people.

Carney has previously been critical of North Korea’s human rights record, saying it is “probably the worst human rights record in the world.”

Korea’s vice foreign minister, Kim, on a four-day visit to Washington since Sunday, also met with Korea experts and other U.S. officials.

These high-level strategic consultations are held annually to discuss bilateral, regional and global issues.

“Currently, it is difficult to clearly grasp North Korea’s internal movement,” a high-ranking South Korean government official said yesterday. “However, it seems Kim Jong-un is dominating the army, and within a limited range there is a chance that it might carry out further provocations.

“Based on past experiences, between February and April, there are joint U.S. and Korean military drills; so during this period, there is a chance that North Korea might carry out provocations in retaliation,” the official added.

In order to contain potential movements, the official said, China and other neighboring countries must “work closely together and send a unified message to North Korea.”

Seoul and Washington hold two-month joint military exercises from February. The South Korean vice foreign minister said that North Korea might again retaliate against U.S.-South Korean military drills, though so far there have been no imminent signs of a fourth nuclear test or missile launch.

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013, and issued a series of threats and charged rhetoric toward Seoul and Washington earlier this year amid ongoing annual joint military drills and war games.

However, there does not seem to be any moves from Washington to resume the long-stalled six-party talks, the high-ranking official said.

The talks, a dialogue between the two Koreas, China, Japan, the United States and Russia that are aimed at the successful denuclearization of the North, have been stalled since late 2008.

Senior foreign affairs officials from Korea, Japan and China are also holding separate talks this week on the recent developments in North Korea, among other issues.

BY SARAH KIM, PARK SEUNG-HEE [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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