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Senior US official warns NK of ‘swift and forceful response’ to nuclear test

Seoul, Washington condemn Pyongyang’s test-firing of multiple ballistic missiles, agree to bolster nuclear deterrence measures

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong (right) and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman pose before their bilateral talk held at South Korea’s Foreign Ministry headquarters in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong (right) and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman pose before their bilateral talk held at South Korea’s Foreign Ministry headquarters in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The United States and South Korea would take “swift and forceful responses” when North Korea carries out a nuclear test, including additional sanctions, a senior US official said Tuesday.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman issued the warning after a meeting with South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong in Seoul. In addition to warning against the potential nuclear test, which would be North Korea’s seventh, the two officials strongly condemned Pyongyang’s latest firing of multiple ballistic missiles.

“Any nuclear tests would be in complete violation of UN Security Council resolutions. There would be a swift and forceful response to such a test,” Sherman told reporters after the bilateral meeting.

“This (the nuclear test) would be very destabilizing to the world security. And I believe that not only the ROK, the United States and Japan, but the entire world will respond in a strong and clear manner. We are prepared,” she added. ROK refers to the Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name.

When asked about the details of the possible contingency plans, Sherman said, “I think North Korea will find out.”

In the latest prospects, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said Monday that North Korea’s nuclear test may be imminent, citing observations of a tunnel entrance reopening at the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri.

The IAEA observation is in line with previous reports by the intelligence agencies of the US and South Korean authorities.

If North Korea carries out the nuclear test, it would be the seventh coming after the last one in September 2017, and fifth since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011.

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho also explained how the two governments discussed measures to handle further provocations from North Korea, including additional sanctions and joint military defense actions.

“If North Korea carries out a nuclear test, we would have to review imposing additional sanctions to North Korea, together with the United States and the international society, and there would also be additional measures taken to strengthen the joint defense posture,” Cho said.

“The United States and the ROK continued to share the goal of achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and we will work together to respond forcibly to any provocations by the DPRK,” Cho added, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The two sides also spoke out against Pyongyang’s launch of eight short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea on Sunday. As a countermeasure, South Korean and US forces fired eight surface-to-surface Army Tactical Missile System missiles at early dawn Monday.

At the same time, the officials called for North Korea to come to the negotiating table.

“United States harbors no hostile intent towards the DPRK. We continue to urge Pyongyang to cease its destabilizing and provocative activities and choose the path of diplomacy,” Sherman said.

The US official also called for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to attend to domestic issues, instead of posing security threats to the international society.

“Kim Jong-un has announced publicly that there has been a very strong COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea, and we feel for the North Korean people,” Sherman said.

“We hope that Kim Jong-un will be focused on helping his people to meet this challenge of COVID-19 which we have all faced, and will return to the negotiating table, rather than taking provocative and dangerous and destabilizing actions.”

Aside from the North Korean issues, the two officials also discussed the joint efforts in carrying out the agreements made between South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and US President Joe Biden, in their first summit in May.

Among the topics discussed include relaunching the Extended Deterrence Strategy, and operation of the consultation group implementing the Indo-Pacific economic framework.

They also discussed working together to preserve peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, Sherman added.

It is the first face-to-face meeting held between Cho and Sherman since South Korea launched a new government in March.

On Wednesday the two officials were scheduled to hold a trilateral meeting with their Japanese counterpart, Takeo Mori, to further discuss trilateral cooperation in addressing regional and global issues as well as North Korea’s nuclear development.

By Jo He-rim (heherim@heraldcorp.com">rim@heraldcorp.com)
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