BEIJING — Secretary of State John Kerry hinted at the possibility of dialogue with North Korea on the first leg of a sprint through East Asia that has been shadowed by threats from Pyongyang.
At a press conference in Seoul with South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se, Kerry reiterated the U.S. commitment to the alliance forged during the 1950-1953 Korean War.
“The real goal should not be reinforcing the fact that we will defend our allies, which we will, but it should be emphasizing for everybody the possibilities of peace, the possibilities of reunification, the possibilities of a very different future for the people of the Republic of Korea and ultimately North Korea,” Kerry said.
As Kerry spoke, U.S. and South Korean intelligence services were reporting that North Korea has moved as many as five missiles into launch position on their east coast. The most worrisome of them is a new, medium-range missile known as the Musudan, which could potentially reach Guam and U.S. bases in Japan.
“It is a huge mistake for him to choose to do that (a missile test) because it would further isolate his country and further isolate his people who are frankly desperate for food, not missiles,” Kerry said.
Previous North Korea crises exposed rifts between the United States and Seoul, particularly during the George W. Bush administration, but this time, foreign policy analysts say the alliance is holding strong. The U.S. and South Korea have also been conducting joint military exercises in the region to demonstrate their combined strength against North Korea.
“We are pretty much in agreement about how to deal with them,” said Han Sung-joo, a former ambassador to Washington. “Together we have a strong defense, but if North Korea shows a change of attitude, both the United States and the Republic of Korea are willing to talk to them.”
The new South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, although a conservative, promised during her campaign to repair relations with North Korea, which were strained under her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. She has called for talks with North Korea over a jointly run industrial park in Kaesong, just north of the demilitarized zone, which Pyongyang is threatening to close.
Kerry said that the U.S. would not oppose negotiations between the estranged Koreas.
After Seoul, Kerry travels to Beijing, where he is expected to press China to use more of its economic leverage to rein in Pyongyang.
For weeks now, Pyongyang has been unleashing a new fiery threat each day through its propagandistic news service. Although North Korea is one of the world’s poorest countries, the Defense Intelligence Agency has reported that Pyongyang has developed the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, which would allow it to carry through threats that had been previously dismissed as bluster.
Also visiting Seoul, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen today urged North Korea to stop its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. “North Korea stands in continued defiance of the will of the international community,” he said.