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U.S., South Korea drop 'North Korea denuclearization' in joint statement

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (C) meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (R) during their courtesy call at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday. Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (C) meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (R) during their courtesy call at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday. Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

March 18 (UPI) -- The United States and South Korea concluded their first "2+2" cabinet-level meeting since the Obama administration with a joint statement.

The document issued Thursday mentioned North Korea's weapons but did not address a commitment to North Korea denuclearization.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued the statement with their respective South Korean counterparts, the same day North Korea's foreign ministry criticized the U.S. policy of denuclearization, South Korean news service MoneyToday reported.

"The Ministers and Secretaries emphasized that North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile issues are a priority for the Alliance and reaffirmed a shared commitment to address and resolve these issues," the joint statement read.

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"They affirmed the importance of full implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions by the international community, including North Korea."

In Japan, where Blinken and Austin held a similar ministerial-level meeting, the two sides "reaffirmed their commitment to the complete denuclearization of North Korea."

Blinken previously had said China poses the greatest security challenge in the region. The U.S.-South Korea statement made no mention of China.

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South Korea is not a member of the U.S.-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, but ahead of the U.S. visit there was speculation the country could join Japan, Australia and India in the partnership.

Chung told reporters Thursday there was no discussion of South Korea joining the Quad. Seoul's New Southern Policy on Southeast Asia could be coordinated with the United States' strategy on the Indo-Pacific, however, Chung said. In Seoul, Blinken had mentioned the Quad in reference to various ways the two sides could work together, according to KBS.

The United States and South Korea finalized the bilateral Special Measures Agreement for defense cost sharing on the peninsula. Under the new deal South Korea is to pay about $1.05 billion annually for 28,500 U.S. troops until 2025.

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