North Korea accused the new US administration of adopting “lunatic theory” Thursday, saying it would ignore attempts at dialogue by Washington unless it changed course, as President Joe Biden’s top envoys held talks in Seoul.
The comments from the North’s first vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui came with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin in the South on the second leg of an Asian tour to bolster a united front against the nuclear-armed North and an increasingly assertive China.
There could be no contact nor dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang “unless the US rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK”, Choe said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, referring to the North by its official name.
“Therefore, we will disregard such an attempt of the US in the future, too.”
The “new regime” in the US, she added, had only put forward a “lunatic theory of ‘threat from north Korea’ and groundless rhetoric about ‘complete denuclearisation'”.
The talks process between then president Donald Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un deadlocked after their second summit in Hanoi in early 2019 broke up over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.
The North remains subject to sanctions over its banned weapons programmes, but has also voluntarily closed its borders for more than a year to try to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic that first emerged in neighbouring China.
The new US administration is carrying out a review of Washington’s policy towards the North, and after the envoys met their South Korean counterparts Blinken told reporters: “We are committed to the denuclearisation of North Korea, reducing the broader threat that DPRK poses to the United States and our allies.”
After leaving Seoul, he is due to hold talks with Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, and said he would press Beijing, Pyongyang’s key diplomatic ally, to intervene.
“China has a critical role to play in working to convince North Korea to pursue denuclearisation,” he said.
“Virtually all of North Korea’s economic relationships, its trade, are with or go through China, so it has tremendous influence. And I think it has a shared interest in making sure we do something about North Korea’s nuclear programme.”
He declined to comment directly on Choe’s remarks.
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The US envoys on Thursday oversaw the signing of a new agreement on Southern payments towards the costs of the 28,500 US troops stationed in the country to defend it from its neighbour and protect Washington’s regional interests.
They were to meet later with President Moon Jae-in, who brokered the talks process between Kim and Trump.
The Republican’s unorthodox approach to foreign policy saw the two leaders trade insults and threats of war before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance that saw a series of headline-grabbing meetings, beginning in Singapore.
But ultimately no progress was made towards Washington’s declared aim of denuclearising North Korea.
Shortly before Biden’s January inauguration, leader Kim decried the US as his country’s “foremost principal enemy” and Pyongyang unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile at a military parade.
It had maintained silence during the first weeks of the Biden administration, with state media not even mentioning the new US leadership until this week.
Choe said Thursday that for talks to take place, Pyongyang and Washington would have to meet as equals.
“We make it clear that we won’t give it such opportunities as in Singapore and Hanoi again,” she said.
Since mid-February, Washington has attempted to reach out to Pyongyang through several channels, officials say, but not received any response.
So far, the North has refrained from carrying out any direct provocations since Biden was inaugurated, but is now beginning to amplify its rhetoric.
Seoul and Washington are security allies and kicked off joint military exercises last week. That prompted the North Korean leader’s influential sister Kim Yo Jong to warn the new US administration against “causing a stink at its first step” if it wants to “sleep in peace for coming four years”.