North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes are an urgent priority for the United States and Washington remains committed to denuclearization of the country, the US State Department said yesterday.

The Biden administration’s lack of direct engagement with North Korea should not be seen as an indication that the challenge posed by its weapons programmes 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 and missile programmes in recent years “which makes this an urgent priority for the United States and one that we are committed to addressing together with our allies and partners,” Price said.

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

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

The Biden administration, which took office last month, says it is conducting a full review of North Korea policy in consultation with allies, particularly South Korea and Japan, following former President Donald Trump’s unprecedented engagement with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which failed to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

A confidential UN report seen by Reuters on Monday said North Korea developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes throughout 2020 in violation of international sanctions, helping fund them with some US$300 million stolen through cyber hacks.

President Joe Biden’s top Asia official, Kurt Campbell, has said the administration must decide quickly on how to approach North Korea and not repeat an Obama-era delay that led to “provocative” steps by Pyongyang that prevented engagement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who discussed North Korea with his South Korean counterpart on Thursday, has said additional sanctions could be used in coordination with allies to press North Korea to denuclearize.

Biden called Kim a “thug” during his election campaign, and said he would only meet him “on the condition that he would agree that he would be drawing down his nuclear capacity to get there.”