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Top US diplomat slams North Korea's rights condition

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, talks with Scott Pleus, Deputy Commander of the United States Forces Korea on his arrival at Osan Air Base Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. After Tokyo, President Joe Bidens top diplomat and defense chief are traveling to South Korea after North Korea made sure it had their attention by warning the United States to refrain from causing trouble amid deadlocked nuclear negotiations.(Chung Sung-Jun/Pool Photo via AP)

SEOUL – America’s top diplomat on Wednesday criticized North Korea’s human rights record and reiterated a vow to strip the country of its nuclear program, a day after Pyongyang warned Washington to “refrain from causing a stink” amid deadlocked nuclear negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in South Korea with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier Wednesday as part of their regional tour aimed at boosting America’s Asian alliances to better deal with growing challenges from China and North Korea.

“The authoritarian regime in North Korea continues to commit systematic and widespread abuses against its own people,” Blinken said at the start of his meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong. “We must stand with people demanding their fundamental rights and freedoms and against those who repress them.”

Blinken called North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs “a threat to the region and to the world.” He said the United States will work with South Korea, Japan and other allies to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea.

How to get North Korea to return to talks was sure to be a major focus of meetings between Blinken and Austin and South Korean officials.

When Austin separately met his South Korean counterpart Suh Wook on Wednesday, he said their countries’ alliance “has never been more important” given “the unprecedented challenges posed by” North Korea and China.

The two top U.S. officials are to hold a joint “two plus two” meeting with Chung and Suh on Thursday in the first such contact between the two countries in five years.

U.S.-led diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear program has been in limbo since a February 2019 summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed over disputes on U.S.-led sanctions. Kim has since threatened to enlarge his nuclear arsenal in protest of what he called U.S. hostility.