(ATTN: UPDATES with reports of a press release from the U.S. Department of State in paras 5-6; CHANGES dateline)
By Song Sang-ho and Byun Duk-kun
SEOUL/WASHINGTON, May 13 (Yonhap) -- The top diplomats of South Korea and the United States expressed concerns over recent COVID-19 outbreaks in North Korea and agreed to continue consultations on humanitarian aid to the reclusive country during video talks Friday, Seoul's foreign ministry said.
In their first talks since Foreign Minister Park Jin took office the previous day, Park and Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the North's recent missile launches and agreed to strengthen bilateral coordination to "sternly" deal with North Korean threats, according to the ministry.
"The South and the U.S. agreed to continue consultations, together with the international community, over ways of providing humanitarian aid to the North," the ministry said in a press release.
Despite their condemnation of the North's missile launches, the two sides highlighted their countries' openness to dialogue with the North and agreed to make efforts for the resumption of "principled and consistent" denuclearization negotiations with the North, according to the ministry.
The U.S. state department said Blinken also emphasized the U.S.' commitment to the defense of South Korea.
"The secretary emphasized our ironclad, mutual commitment to the defense of the ROK and our shared goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as the importance of trilateral cooperation with Japan in support of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific," it said in a press release, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.
Earlier in the day, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported that six people have died from COVID-19 and symptoms of fever were newly reported among more than 18,000 people nationwide Thursday.
Despite speculation that the North might slow down its weapons tests to focus on antivirus efforts, the regime launched three short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Thursday evening, its 16th show of force this year.
Park and Blinken also discussed preparations for the upcoming summit between new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden. Biden is set to arrive here next Friday for the summit, before visiting Japan on his first Asia trip since his inauguration early last year.
Park called on Blinken to work together for a successful summit, expressing hope it would help further elevate the two countries' "comprehensive strategic" alliance.
Blinken pointed out that Biden's planned visit -- the earliest one by a U.S. president following the inauguration of a South Korean president -- underscores the importance that Washington places on the South and the overall Indo-Pacific region, according to the ministry.
The two sides also shared the view on the growing importance of cooperation in areas of "economic security," including supply chain resiliency, and agreed to reinforce their "strategic" communication.
Blinken invited Park to visit the U.S. at the "earliest possible date" to discuss issues of mutual interest, the ministry said.
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