(3rd LD) Top U.S. nuke envoy says ‘deeply concerned’ about what N.K. would get in return for arms supply to Russia

The United States is "deeply concerned" about what North Korea will get in return for its suspected delivery of military equipment to Russia, its chief nuclear envoy said Tuesday, calling the increasing arms cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow a "very worrying" development that destabilizes the region.

Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, made the remark during a trilateral meeting in Jakarta with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, Kim Gunn and Hiroyuki Namazu, respectively, as speculation is growing over a possible arms deal between the North and Russia following last month's rare summit between leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Washington said Friday the North has sent over 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions to Moscow for use in its war in Ukraine, the first U.S. disclosure of its assessment on the suspected arms transaction.

"These weapons deliveries ... will significantly increase the human toll by prolonging Russia's brutal war," Kim said in his opening remarks.

"We are deeply concerned about what Russia is providing the DPRK in return ... This expansive military cooperation undermines the global nonproliferation regime, and threatens stability and security,"

DPRK is the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Sung Kim (C), U.S. special envoy for North Korea, shakes hands with Kim Gunn (L), South Korea's special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, and Hiroyuki Namazu, head of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, during their talks on North Korea's suspected arms transfer to Russia at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, in Indonesia, on Oct. 17, 2023. (Yonhap)

"We will continue our work to counter the DPRK's unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, and strengthen our ability to protect our allies in the region," Kim said.

Seoul's top nuclear envoy, Kim Gunn, made it clear that there will be no hesitation in "imposing costs" on Pyongyang.

"It seriously threatens our security, too. We will keep working together in our response. We will not hesitate in imposing costs," Kim said.

Kim said the North's "reckless behavior" will only work to bolster the trilateral cooperation, accusing Pyongyang of using the diplomacy with Moscow as an "escape route" to stay away from the pressure to denuclearize.

Hiroyuki Namazu, the new director general of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, condemned North Korea for "disregarding" the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolutions banning Pyongyang from transferring weapons and related commodities, and accused it of going in the "opposite direction."

In a press release, the U.S. Department of State said the three envoys discussed arms transfers between the North and Russia, decrying them as threatening "stability and security in the Indo-Pacific, Europe and around the world."

The envoys highlighted the threat from the North's ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs and its cyber activities, while committing to maintain close coordination over the North's plan to launch a military spy satellite in violation of UNSC resolutions, according to the department.

But the U.S. envoy reiterated Washington's openness to diplomatic engagement with the North "without preconditions," it said.

The trilateral meeting came as Washington has been pushing to strengthen the cooperation with its two Asian allies to counter North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile programs, and keep an assertive China in check.

The nuclear envoys' meetings have become more frequent since the dramatic warming of the Seoul-Tokyo relations after a resolution over the long-running row over the forced labor issue.

On China's recent forced repatriation of North Korean defectors, Kim Gunn said Seoul has "raised the issue" with Beijing.

Sung Kim called on China to uphold the international practice of not forcing refugees to return to a country where they are exposed to persecution, and allow them to move to a safe third country.

Concerns have renewed after a news outlet reported that hundreds of North Korean defectors from China's northeastern regions were sent back to their repressive home country against their will last week.

Julie Turner, new U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights who's visiting Seoul this week, vowed to work with Seoul to better address the issue.

Prior to the three-way meeting, Kim Gunn also met separately with Namazu, and discussed North Korean and regional issues.

They agreed on the need to double down on efforts to dissuade the North from developing the nuclear and missile programs, and to work to ensure a stern and united response from the international community if Pyongyang carries out another military spy satellite launch this month, Seoul's foreign ministry said.

North Korea has stipulated its policy of strengthening its nuclear force in its constitution and has vowed to conduct a military spy satellite launch this month after two failed attempts in May and August.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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