Top diplomats of United States, South Korea discuss ways to engage North Korea

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about refugee programs for Afghans who aided the U.S. during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S. August 2, 2021. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong have discussed efforts to engage with North Korea, including the prospect of humanitarian aid, their offices said on Friday.

While the allies both want North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and end its missile programme, they have at times disagreed on the approach, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in keen to build economic ties between the two Koreas while the United States has long insisted on action on denuclearisation as a first step.

South Korea's foreign ministry, in a statement on the call between Blinken and Chung, said they had agreed to hold detailed discussions on ways to cooperate with North Korea, including humanitarian cooperation, and continue to make efforts to engage with it.

"The secretary and the minister agreed to continue the coordinated diplomatic efforts ... to make substantial progress toward the goal of complete denuclearisation and establishment of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula," the ministry said.

Blinken confirmed U.S. support for dialogue and engagement between North Korea and South Korea, the U.S. Department of State said in a statement.

Last week, the two Koreas restored hotlines that North Korea severed a year ago and South Korean officials said Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were seeking to repair strained ties and resume summits.

According to South Korean lawmakers, North Korea is seeking some easing of international sanctions before it resumes negotiations with the United States. But the United States has shown little inclination to ease sanctions before talks over North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Nevertheless, South Korea officials have been encouraged by a declaration by the Biden administration, which earlier this year concluded a review of North Korea policy, that it would pursue "practical" diplomacy with North Korea.

Blinken plans to call on Southeast Asian counterparts in a virtual meeting later on Friday to fully implement sanctions on North Korea, state department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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