US Secretary of State John Kerry in Seoul on Monday lashed out at North Korea for its recent test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, public executions and other ongoing provocations, stressing the need for greater international pressure to change its behaviour.
While "persistent and principled" diplomacy remains key to dealing with the communist country, no one should be "under any illusion" about talks for the sake of talks, he said, urging leader Kim Jong-un to display his resolve for denuclearization.
"This is an individual that has said no to every effort to reach out and find a reasonable way forward," he said at a joint news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.
"As a result of that, we are indeed talking about ways to increase the pressure and increase the potential of either sanctions or other means to make it clear to him that he is on a very dangerous course in the missile systems and continued pursuit of his nuclear weapons programme."
Though the top US diplomat emphasised that there is no "daylight" between the allies in their North Korea policies, his particularly stringent tone and pledge for additional pressure from virtually all fronts ― from weapons programs to personnel management to human rights ― invited concerns of future discord as Seoul is seen moving to mend ties with Pyongyang. His two-day trip came as Seoul moves to defrost cross-border relations to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonial rule this year. With foreign and security affairs being her forte, the prolonged inter-Korean gridlock is adding burden to President Park Geun-hye as her presidency, now in its third year, heads to its second half.
Kerry singled out Pyongyang's SLBM development, which came to light after a successful ejection test early this month, as "flagrant disregard for international law." Coupled with the suspected execution of its defence chief and other constant breaches of human rights, its expanding nuclear programme puts into question the young ruler's leadership, he noted.
His current behaviour is "certain to attract increased scrutiny" from the UN Security Council, which formally set North Korea's human rights situation as a standalone item on its agenda for the first time last year, following a bombshell General Assembly resolution calling for the perpetrators to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
"Provocative and contrary to the United Nations' requirements, contrary to all international standards that he is supposed to live by, (the SLBM) is one more element of provocation and it really ties into this question of the nature of the executions and the behaviour of Kim Jong-un," Kerry said.
"The world is hearing increasingly more and more stories of grotesque, grisly, horrendous public displays of executions on a whim and fancy by the leader against people who were close to him, and sometimes for the most flimsy of excuses."
At the outset of the ministerial talks earlier in the day, Yun also said Kim's reign of terror is "fueling concerns over its future," while externally the country's threats have grown "as serious ever" in the wake of the underwater experiment.
To better fend off North Korean threats, the allies agreed to boost policy coordination and joint deterrence. They will also ramp up pressure and persuasion efforts with other members of the stalled six-nation denuclearization talks ― China, Japan and Russia ― he noted.
With South Korea and Japan remaining in historical rows, the secretary urged the top two US regional allies to mend ties and the Shinzo Abe administration to keep its vows to uphold past apologies that marked a "very important step forward."
"With respect to the powerful and important part of reconciliation that comes from the events of World War II, particularly the trafficking of women for sexual purposes by the Japanese military during World War II, we have said many times that that was a terrible, egregious violation of human rights," Kerry added.
"And we urge both Japan and South Korea to handle these sensitive historical issues with restraint and continue to engage in a direct dialogue towards a mutually accepted resolution that promotes healing while facilitating a future oriented relationship."
Kerry touched down in Seoul late Sunday and had a dinner meeting with Yun, during which they also discussed Park's trip to Washington and the summit with her US counterpart Barack Obama scheduled for June. Also on Monday, the secretary paid a courtesy visit to Park and delivered a speech at Korea University in Seoul.
During the lecture, Kerry criticised what he called Pyongyang's "provocative, destabilizing and repressive actions," including the communist country's alleged cyberattack on Sony. He said sanctions against North Korean officials are an example that the US will use "all necessary means" to defend its allies.
The attack is suspected to be a response to the Japanese company releasing the movie "The Interview," which depicts a fictional assassination of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
He also bashed the communist country for its "most rigid and centralized control" over its citizens in terms of Internet access.
"No other government is as extreme as the DPRK," he said, referring to North Korea by its official name.