U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, speaks next to South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se during their press conference Thursday at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea. (Ahn Young-joon / AP)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his South Korean counterpart warned North Korea on Thursday against any possible aggression amid mixed signals from the North over returning to denuclearization talks.
Kerry, meanwhile, urged U.S. allies South Korea and Japan to repair deep divisions between them that threaten coordination in dealing with North Korea.
Kerry and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-sen both dismissed demands from the North to halt an upcoming joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise. They said the exercise could not be used as an excuse by North Korea to stay away from talks or to delay attempts to improve relations between the North and South.
“We have yet to see evidence that North Korea is prepared to meet its obligations. Let me be clear, the United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, we will not accept talks for the sake of talks and the DPRK must show that it will live up to its commitments,” Kerry said, referring to the North by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The U.S. is “ready and able to deter North Korean aggression,” he said. “It is time for the North to choose the path of peace and refrain from provocations or using excuses to avoid the responsibility that they bear.”
Yun said both Seoul and Washington “stand fully prepared against any potential situation given the mixed signals from North Korea, even as it continues a charm offensive.”
The pair appeared at a joint news conference a day after senior North and South Korean officials held their highest-level talks in years, but as the North continues to complain about the military exercise. North Korea has cited it as a reason to rescind an invitation to a U.S. diplomat to visit the country to discuss the case of jailed American missionary Kenneth Bae and has suggested it may cancel planned upcoming reunions between families separated by the Korean War. The rival Koreas agreed Thursday to hold another round of talks Friday.
Kerry will travel to China on Friday and said he would press Chinese leaders to do more to bring North Korea back to disarmament talks.
Kerry also expressed concern about a recent downturn in relations between South Korea and Japan, saying the two nations must overcome historical animosities to present a united front in talks with North Korea and better counter increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region.
“It is up to Japan and (South Korea) to put history behind them and move the relationship forward,” Kerry said. “And it is critical at the same time that we maintain robust trilateral cooperation” on North Korea.
“We urge our friends in Japan and South Korea, we urge both of them to work with us together to find a way forward to help resolve the deeply felt historic differences that still have meaning today. … We will continue to encourage both allies to find mutually acceptable approaches to legacy issues from the past.”
South Korea was angry over a recent visit by Japan’s prime minister to a controversial war shrine in Tokyo, which has deepened resentment in both of the neighboring countries over Japan’s colonial past and abuses committed during World War II. Japan says it is willing to hold high-level dialogue to ease tension, but there appears to be little immediate prospect of that happening.
Yun said South Korea was ready to resolve the differences but accused Japanese political leaders of distorting the historical record and said rapprochement could not happen while that continued.
“We have made a lot of efforts to stabilize the relationship between Korea and Japan, but unfortunately, during the past few months some Japanese political leaders have made a lot of historically incorrect remarks,” Yun said. “And so these revisionist remarks, as long as they last, it will (make it) difficult to build trust between our countries. These leaders must look at history as it is and they must be sincere.”