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US will lead with diplomacy to mitigate NK behavior: US defense chief

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin listens during a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday in Washington, DC. (AFP-Yonhap)
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin listens during a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday in Washington, DC. (AFP-Yonhap)
While calling North Korea “a country with the ambition to be capable of striking the US homeland,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US will continue to work on North Korea, leading with diplomacy.

“Pyongyang continues to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, posing an increasing threat to regional allies and partners and with ambitions to be able to strike the US homeland,” Austin said in his prepared remarks for a US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Department of Defense budget posture on Thursday.

“Leading with diplomacy, the US will continue to work to mitigate North Korea’s destabilizing and provocative behavior and maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

The Joe Biden administration, which completed its monthslong North Korea policy review in late April, has said that its policy calls for “a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy” with Pyongyang.

In his address to the US Congress, Biden said the US will work closely with allies to address the threats posed by North Korea and Iran through “diplomacy, as well as stern deterrence.”

Washington said it had reached out for engagement with Pyongyang in mid-February, but Pyonyang remained unresponsive.

In late May, North Korea slammed the US lifting of all restrictions on South Korean missiles as a “stark reminder” of Washington’s hostile approach to Pyongyang in an article under the name of an international affairs critic, instead of an official government statement.

President Moon Jae-in and Biden agreed during their May 21 summit to use diplomacy to resolve the North’s nuclear standoff and to terminate all “missile guideline” restrictions on the flight range and warhead weight of South Korean missiles.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said in prepared remarks for the hearing that North Korea “possesses the technical capacity to present a real danger to the US homeland as well as our allies and partners across the Indo-Pacific.”

He said North Korea shows “no signs of moderation in its focus on military capability at the expense of their most vulnerable citizens and peace of the Korean Peninsula.”

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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