(ATTN: UPDATES with reports of a press release from the state department in paras 12-14; CHANGES dateline)
By Kim Eun-jung and Song Sang-ho
SEOUL/WASHINGTON, June 7 (Yonhap) -- A senior U.S. diplomat warned Tuesday that North Korea would face a "swift and forceful" response should the recalcitrant regime press ahead with a widely anticipated nuclear test.
Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Wendy Sherman issued the message after meeting with her South Korean counterpart, Cho Hyun-dong, in Seoul, to discuss the North's weekend missile launches and the possibility of it conducting what would be its seventh nuclear test.
"Any nuclear tests would be in complete violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions," Sherman told reporters. "There would be a swift and forceful response to such a test."
Sherman added, "The entire world will respond in a strong and clear manner. We are prepared."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that it has detected indications of the secretive North preparing for a nuclear test at its Punggye-ri site. One of the adits for tunnels there has been reopened, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said at the U.N. agency's Board of Governors meeting in Vienna on Monday (local time).
Touching on the North's COVID-19 situation, the U.S. diplomat called on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to focus on coping with the public health issue "rather than taking provocative and dangerous and destabilizing actions."
However, Sherman reiterated the Joe Biden administration's desire to reengage with the North.
"The United States harbors no hostile intent towards the DPRK. We continue to urge Pyongyang to ceases its destabilizing and provocative activities and choose the path of diplomacy," she said.
DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Cho said he and Sherman underscored the importance of "resolute, unified international response" and agreed to closely coordinate their actions against North Korea's provocations at the United Nations.
"If North Korea conducts a nuclear test by any chance, we would have no other option but to consider additional sanctions on the North in coordination with the U.S. and the international community," Cho told reporters.
Sherman emphasized the importance of trilateral cooperation between the U.S., South Korea and Japan, according to the State Department.
"They discussed the importance of strengthening trilateral ties with Japan, including through their June 8 trilateral meeting with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo, to uphold the rules-based international order and to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," department spokesperson Ned Price said of the Cho-Sherman meeting in a press release.
"The deputy secretary and first vice foreign minister condemned recent unlawful ballistic missile launches by the DPRK and expressed concern over Pyongyang's increasingly provocative behavior," he added.
The U.N. Security Council last month failed to pass a U.S.-proposed sanctions resolution on North Korea due to vetoes by China and Russia.
In their first face-to-face consultations since the launch of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration, the senior diplomats agreed to facilitate communication at all levels to implement agreements from Yoon's first summit with Biden last month, including an accord on broadening and deepening Seoul-Washington ties to a "Global Comprehensive Strategic Alliance."
Cho and Sherman plan to meet again in Seoul on Wednesday in a trilateral session involving their Japanese counterpart Takeo Mori, which is expected to focus on their coordinated response to North Korea and cooperation for other regional issues.
The previous gathering of the regional powers' No. 2 diplomats took place in Washington, D.C., in November last year.
Later Tuesday, Sherman met with Prime Minister Han Duck-soo in what marked Han's first meeting with a foreign diplomat since taking office.
During the meeting, Han expressed hope that South Korea joining the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), the U.S.-led new economic initiative, would help expand bilateral relations.
In response, Sherman also expressed thanks for Seoul's decision to join the IPEF and hope the two countries would expand supply chains of semiconductors in the global market.
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