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South Korea, U.S. to coordinate more closely on N.K. uncertainty

The foreign ministers of South Korea and the U.S. on Wednesday agreed to intensify policy coordination to better cope with the growing uncertainty in North Korea in the aftermath of the execution of its leader’s uncle.

During their talks in Washington, Yun Byung-se and John Kerry concurred on the need for more systematic and frequent discussions at various levels focusing on North Korea conditions, which would progress to involve China and other neighbors later on.

“We decided to intensify our consultations to assess the North Korean situation and explore our policy options,” Yun told a news conference after the meeting.

“These efforts will ensure that our two countries remain very much on the same page in dealing with the uncertain North Korean situation. In the event of any North Korean provocation, South Korea and the United States will firmly respond based on our robust combined defense posture.”

The two top diplomats also recognized the growing uncertainty in Northeast Asia, Yun said, taking a swipe at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s worship at the Yasukuni Shrine which triggered condemnation from Seoul and Beijing.

“In particular, I pointed out that historical issues stand in the way of reconciliation and cooperation in this region, and I emphasized the need for sincere actions. The secretary and I agreed to strengthen our efforts to alleviate tension and promote peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia,” Yun added.

Kerry noted that the allies remain aligned in their resolve not to accept Pyongyang as a nuclear state, calling on it to abide by its previous denuclearization pledges and international resolutions.

“The United States and the Republic of Korea stand very firmly united, without an inch of daylight between us ― not a sliver of daylight ― on the subject of opposition to North Korea’s destabilizing nuclear and ballistic missile programs and proliferation activities. And the international community stands with us,” he said.

The two countries have been “more actively consulting than ever” since the Dec. 12 execution of Jang Song-thaek, leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle who was once considered the communist state’s second-in-command, a top Seoul official said.

The decision for intensified coordination reflects Washington’s anxiety about the stability of the regime and its direction going forward, the official said, citing Kerry’s recent media interview in which he said the execution attested to the nature of the “ruthless, horrendous dictatorship and of his insecurities.”

“While the six-party talks are aimed at denuclearizing the North, what we’re trying to do is to look in depth into its uncertainty given the new circumstances. It would not work as a separate consultation body but we are seeking more frequent, intensive coordination,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

“There was a consensus that at some point later on, the bilateral consultations could include China and become a five-way dialogue (also involving Japan and Russia).”

Though any sudden change in Pyongyang has been a perennial concern on the peninsula, a recent string of moves and remarks by Seoul and Washington officials has been rekindling speculation over the stability and durability of the Kim dynasty.

On Monday, President Park Geun-hye called for preparations for reunification, which she called a “jackpot” that would bring the Korean economy to new heights.
During his three-day stay, Yun also met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other former and incumbent officials from the administration, Congress and think tanks, including Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Yun is scheduled to return to Seoul on Thursday.

By Shin Hyon-hee (