UPDATE 1-U.S. says North Korea an urgent priority for the United States

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By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) – North Korea’s nuclear weaponand ballistic missile programs are an urgent priority for theUnited States and Washington remains committed todenuclearization of the country, the U.S. State Department saidon Friday.

The Biden administration’s lack of direct engagement withNorth Korea should not be seen as an indication that thechallenge posed by its weapons programs was not a priority,department spokesman Ned Price said.

“It in fact very much is,” he told a regular briefing.

North Korea continued to make progress in its nuclear andmissile programs in recent years “which makes this an urgentpriority for the United States and one that we are committed toaddressing together with our allies and partners,” Price said.

“And … the central premise is that we remain committed todenuclearization of North Korea,” he said.

Price said the lack of direct engagement to date was “afunction of us making sure that we have done the diplomaticlegwork, that we have been in close contact in touch with ourpartners and allies,” aiming for a coordinated approach.

The Biden administration, which took office last month, saysit is conducting a full review of North Korea policy inconsultation with allies, particularly South Korea and Japan,following former President Donald Trump’s unprecedentedengagement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which failed topersuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

A confidential U.N. report seen by Reuters on Monday saidNorth Korea developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programsthroughout 2020 in violation of international sanctions, helpingfund them with some $300 million stolen through cyber hacks.

President Joe Biden’s top Asia official, Kurt Campbell, hassaid the administration must decide quickly on how to approachNorth Korea and not repeat an Obama-era delay that led to”provocative” steps by Pyongyang that preventedengagement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who discussed North Koreawith his South Korean counterpart on Thursday, hassaid additional sanctions could be used in coordination withallies to press North Korea to denuclearize.

Biden called Kim a “thug” during his election campaign, andsaid he would only meet him “on the condition that he wouldagree that he would be drawing down his nuclear capacity to getthere.”(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Daphne Psaledakis and JonathanLandayEditing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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