(ATTN: UPDATES with additional information, more background in paras 5-7)
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, June 15 (Yonhap) -- Strict and continued enforcement of sanctions on North Korea while also seeking to engage with the reclusive state diplomatically are important to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the nominee for U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs said Tuesday.
Daniel Kritenbrink also said he would try to find ways to further strengthen sanctions on the North if confirmed.
"As I noted at the outset, the Biden-Harris administration is committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And, if confirmed, I would support an approach that relies both on sanctions enforcement and deterrence, as well as a practical calibrated approach, open to diplomacy," he said in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"If confirmed, I would be delighted to learn more about the BRINK Act and how we can strengthen the sanctions regime, but Senator, I do agree enforcing the sanctions regime with the tools that we have...is vitally important to the denuclearization goals that we have," he said when asked about the possible role of the sanctions regime can play in putting pressure on North Korea.
The BRINK Act or Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea Act is a 2017 bill that sought to cut off the North's access to the international banking system, which was prompted by the death of a then 22-year-old U.S. student, Otto Warmbier, who died six days after he was released from the North after a yearlong detention on charges of stealing a propaganda poster.
The proposed bill failed to pass U.S. Congress.
North Korea still faces various U.S. and international sanctions, including those under U.N. Security Council resolutions, that prohibit U.N. members and their businesses from doing business with the North, especially in energy and arms-related areas.
The Joe Biden administration sought to engage with Pyongyang in February, then again in April when its monthlong review of North Korea policy came to end.
North Korea reportedly remains unresponsive to the U.S. overtures.
The U.S. ambassador to Vietnam highlighted the importance of efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula through diplomacy.
"President Biden has stated we remain committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and will work with allies to address that threat through diplomacy and deterrence," he told the Senate committee in the hearing.
"If confirmed, I will work to ensure North Korea and others abide by UN Security Council resolutions while supporting a calibrated and practical diplomatic approach that prioritizes the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed military forces," the nominee added.
Kritenbrink said strengthening U.S. alliances will be the first of his six priorities as an assistant secretary of state, which also include the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
"Our network of alliances and partnerships is our greatest strategic asset, enabling us to pool our strengths to advance shared interests, deter common threats, and promote universal values -- including our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that is rules-based and unconstrained by coercion," he said in his opening remarks submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"If confirmed, strengthening these relationships will be my top priority. The priority placed on our treaty alliances was demonstrated by President Biden's hosting of his Japanese and Republic of Korea counterparts in April and May," added Kritenbrink.
Biden hosted his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, in Washington on May 21, which marked his second in-person meeting with a foreign leader since taking office in January. Biden's first in-person summit was held in April with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
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