(2nd LD) Cho, Blinken agree on cooperation against N.K. provocations, illicit fund generation

The top diplomats of South Korea and the United States agreed Wednesday to sternly deal with North Korea's provocative acts and continue efforts to block the regime's financial gains through illicit activities. Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul announced the agreement after his hourlong talks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington. It marked their first bilateral in-person meeting since Cho took office last month. Their meeting came amid concerns that Pyongyang could ratchet up tensions ahead of parliamentary elections in South Korea in April and the U.S. presidential vote in November. "At a time of heightened North Korean nuclear and missile threats, (the two sides) agreed to sternly deal with North Korea's provocations, continue efforts to block the North's illicit funds and strengthen cooperation on efforts for human rights," he told reporters after the meeting. Casting the talks as "fruitful and in-depth," Cho also said the two sides agreed to strengthen cybersecurity cooperation and the institutionalization of information cooperation. In addition, the top diplomats agreed to strengthen bilateral "strategic communication at all levels" to realize the two countries' vision for the "alliance in action toward the future." President Yoon Suk Yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed on the vision during Yoon's state visit to the U.S. last year. Cho and Blinken also discussed cooperation to respond to various other challenges, including the war in Ukraine and the Middle East issue. At the start of the talks, Cho stressed that Seoul and Washington have "always moved in lockstep" in the face of regional and global challenges. "We are one in condemning North Korea's increasingly provocative rhetoric and actions that violate multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, including its export of munitions and ballistic missiles to Russia," he said. "We continue to stand together in supporting Ukraine, and we are united in condemning Houthi attacks and working together to uphold na vigational rights and freedoms in the Gulf of Aden," he added. Cho also noted "historic strides" in trilateral cooperation with Japan as evidenced by last year's three-way Camp David summit. "Strengthening our trilateral coordination is essential for addressing common security challenges, promoting stability and enhancing prosperity in the Indo-Pacific," he said. Blinken underscored the "stronger" partnership between Seoul and Washington on a "bilateral, regional and global" basis. "That's largely because of the extraordinary leadership that Korea shows. ... Something that the United States is grateful for," he said. "We're working together on virtually every major challenge that we have to contend with around the world, as well as working together to build even greater opportunities for our people here in the United States and in South Korea." Source: Yonhap News Agency