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Cho, Blinken pledge 'watertight' response to any NK provocations

Blinken to visit South Korea in March to attend Summit for Democracy

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Feb. 29, 2024 - 15:00

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South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul (second from right) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (second from left) meet for their first bilateral meeting at the Department of State in Washington on Wednesday. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul (second from right) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (second from left) meet for their first bilateral meeting at the Department of State in Washington on Wednesday. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The top diplomats of South Korea and the United States on Wednesday concurred on "watertight responses" to any North Korean provocations amid escalating hostilities from the Kim Jong-un regime directed toward South Korea, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met for their first foreign ministerial meeting in Washington since Cho assumed office in January.

The bilateral discussion covered a wide array of topics, encompassing the South Korea-US alliance, trilateral cooperation with Japan, North Korean issues including its nuclear buildup, intelligence cooperation, as well as regional and global issues, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

"Both ministers assessed that South Korea and the US have been responding to North Korean provocations and threats, which have persisted since earlier this year, in complete solidarity," the ministry said in a statement. "They agreed on active cooperation to ensure watertight responses to any provocations."

The meeting was held at a critical juncture marked by increasingly heightened bellicose rhetoric and saber-rattling from North Korea directly targeting South Korea in the run-up to South Korea's upcoming April legislative elections and the US presidential election in November. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has publicly designated South Korea as a "primary foe."

Before the meeting, Cho said, "We are one in condemning North Korea’s increasingly provocative rhetoric and actions that violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions, including its export of munitions and ballistic missiles to Russia."

Both diplomats also agreed to "strengthen diplomatic coordination aimed at halting illicit military cooperation" between Russia and North Korea and to intensify efforts to block the flow of funds to North Korea via illicit activities, according to the Foreign Ministry.

"They agreed to strive for the fruition of trilateral cooperation to spread beyond the Indo-Pacific region by institutionalizing trilateral cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan and diligently implementing follow-up measures in each arena," the ministry said.

Following the meeting, Cho told reporters that he and Blinken had engaged in "beneficial and in-depth discussions for over 60 minutes." Cho highlighted the "unusual" presence of both Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and the Secretary of State at the same meeting.

South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul (left) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as they meet for talks at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul (left) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as they meet for talks at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Cho also announced that Blinken would visit Seoul in March to participate in the Summit for Democracy, which will be hosted by the Yoon Suk Yeol government from March 18 to 20, during a press briefing in Washington.

Blinken's upcoming visit to South Korea will occur around four months after his previous trip to Seoul last November.

Cho reiterated that Blinken was the first foreign counterpart he had a phone call with since taking office, and highlighted that they met again in Washington just six days after the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Brazil. Cho and Blinken will also meet again in just three weeks.

A high-ranking South Korean government official on Wednesday underscored that Blinken's visit signifies the proactive stance of the Biden administration, demonstrating its attentiveness to Korean Peninsula affairs and North Korean issues, notwithstanding the continuing wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

"Given that there are wars ongoing in Europe and the Middle East, it is understandable that the US position, which has to cover all that, may face unavoidable resource dispersion," the Korean official, who preferred to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of diplomatic matters, said during the press briefing.

"Despite this, it is evident that the US' interest in the North Korean nuclear issue and Korean Peninsula affairs has not diminished," they continued.

The official also explained that South Korea and the US will engage in discussions regarding the negotiation of defense cost sharing for the foreseeable future, particularly in light of the expiration of the current 11th Special Measures Agreement at the end of 2025.

"Typically, negotiations span over a year, so we should take action this year," the official said. "Both countries will engage in discussions regarding defense cost sharing in the near future."

It is noteworthy that negotiations for the next SMA have commenced, despite almost two years remaining until the expiration of the current 11th SMA.

Some observers speculate that this early move could be influenced by the potential reelection of former US President Donald Trump in the November presidential election.

During his tenure, Trump pursued a significant increase in South Korea's defense cost sharing, proposing an amount exceeding five times the previous figure, totaling around $5 billion. Although negotiations for the 11th SMA officially began in September 2019, they were not concluded during the Trump administration.

However, the official emphasized that the decision to initiate negotiations early was driven by the "timeframe and was not influenced by the US presidential election."