The foreign and defense chiefs of the United States and South Korea stressed Thursday that the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile issues are a "priority" for their alliance and underscored the importance of three-way cooperation that also involves Japan.
In a joint statement issued following their so-called two-plus-two talks in the South Korean capital Seoul, the officials also pledged to continue promoting cooperation for peace, security and prosperity in the region.
The talks involving U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui Yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook came as the administration of President Joe Biden conducts a review of North Korea policy.
Reaffirming a shared commitment to addressing and resolving the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile issues, the officials vowed to continue fully coordinating and maintain high-level consultations on the ongoing policy review.
At a joint press conference after the talks, Blinken said Biden plans to complete the work "in the weeks ahead" while keeping "close coordination and consultation" with South Korea and Japan, among others.
South Korean President Moon Jae In, in his meeting with the top U.S. officials at the presidential office later in the day, vowed to continue making an effort at mending relations with Japan, according to his spokesman Kang Min Seok.
Kang quoted Moon as saying, "South Korea-Japan ties are very important to the peace, security, and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, and at the same time a steadfast foundation for trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan."
"The U.S. side values our government's desire for improved ties with Japan while showing expectations for further progress," Kang added.
At the outset of the meeting, Moon also welcomed the outcome of the two-plus-two talks.
"The first two-plus-two talks in almost five years were held today...which means a lot in the sense that a firm foundation was established upon which the South Korea-U.S. alliance can continue improving," said Moon, while promising close security cooperation to achieve complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Blinken, in response, conveyed Biden's message on the importance of the alliance between the two countries, saying that it is not a coincidence that South Korea was chosen as one of the first destinations for his overseas trip.
During Thursday's ministerial meeting, Blinken also expressed hope that China can play a "critical role" in convincing North Korea to pursue denuclearization given its "unique relationship" with the North. He added it is also in China's interest to do so.
"Virtually all of North Korea's economic relationships, its trade...go through China, so it has tremendous influence, and I think it has a shared interest in making sure that we do something about North Korea's nuclear program and about the increasingly dangerous ballistic missile program."
On China's behavior in the region, Blinken said the United States and South Korea are "clear-eyed about Beijing's consistent failure to uphold its commitments," adding that the officials discussed "how Beijing's aggressive and authoritarian behavior are challenging the stability, security and prosperity of the Indo Pacific region."
During his meeting with Chung on Wednesday, Blinken harshly criticized the North Korean government for committing abuses against its people. He also blasted China for eroding autonomy in Hong Kong, its posturing over Taiwan and asserting maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Blinken and Austin's first visit to South Korea as secretaries of state and defense comes after a CNN report that U.S. intelligence has assessed that North Korea could be preparing to carry out its first weapons test since President Joe Biden took office in January.
It also comes just after North Korean media said Kim Yo Jong, leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister and close aide, had lambasted ongoing U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.
On Thursday, the U.S. and South Korean officials also signed a provisional cost-sharing agreement the two countries recently struck on U.S. troops stationed in the South.
Blinken and Austin's trip to South Korea from Wednesday followed a three-day visit to Japan, where they and their Japanese counterparts reaffirmed their commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea and urged Pyongyang to abide by its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The United States and South Korea last held a two-plus-two meeting over four years ago.