Blinken says U.S. plans full review of approach to North Korea

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday the incoming administration planned a full review of the U.S. approach to North Korea to look at ways to increase pressure on the country to come to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons.

Antony J. Blinken, of New York, speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, U.S. January 19, 2021. Graeme Jennings/Pool via REUTERS

At the same time, the United States would also look at providing humanitarian help to North Korea if needed, Blinken said.

“We do want to make sure that in anything we do, we have an eye on the humanitarian side of the equation, not just on the security side of the equation,” he told his Senate confirmation hearing.

Asked by Democratic Senator Ed Markey whether he would, with the ultimate aim of North Korea denuclearizing, support a “phased agreement” that offered tailored sanctions relief to Pyongyang in return for a verifiable freeze in its weapons programs, Blinken replied:

“I think we have to review, and we intend to review, the entire approach and policy toward North Korea, because this is a hard problem that has plagued administration after administration. And it’s a problem that has not gotten better - in fact, it’s gotten worse.”

He said the aim of the review would be to “look at what options we have, and what can be effective in terms of increasing pressure on North Korea to come to the negotiating table, as well as what other diplomatic initiatives may be possible.”

Blinken said this would start with consulting closely with allies and partners, particularly with South Korea and Japan.

Biden’s senior official for Asia policy, Kurt Campbell, has said the administration would have to make an early decision on its approach and not repeat the Obama-era delay that led to “provocative” steps by Pyongyang that prevented engagement.

Campbell had some praise for outgoing President Donald Trump’s unprecedented summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even though no progress was made in persuading Kim to give up his nuclear weapons.

Last week, Kim called for more advanced nuclear weapons and called the United States “our biggest enemy,” underlining the challenge to Biden, who takes office on Wednesday.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Patricia Zengerle and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sonya Hepinstall