US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said North Korea was "in a provocative phase" and all three countries condemned the recent missile launches.
HONOLULU (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Hawaii on Saturday to discuss the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea after Pyongyang begins the year with a series of missile tests.

Blinken said at a press conference after the meeting that North Korea is "in a provocative phase" and the three countries have condemned recent missile launches.

"We are absolutely united in our approach, in our determination," Blinken said after his talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong.

He said the countries were consulting "very closely" about additional steps they could take in response to North Korea, but gave no details.

The three issued a joint statement calling on North Korea to enter into dialogue and end its "illegal activities". They said they had no hostile intentions towards North Korea and were open to meeting with Pyongyang with no preconditions.

Hayashi later told Japanese reporters that the three ministers had a "very fruitful" discussion about the North. He declined to elaborate on any further steps they might take.

North Korea has a long history of using provocations, such as missile or nuclear tests, to solicit international concessions. The latest tests come as the North's economy, already battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling US sanctions, is being hit hard by the pandemic's border closures.

Many see the tests as an attempt to pressure President Joe Biden's administration to relax sanctions. The Biden administration has shown no willingness to do so without significant cuts in the North's nuclear program, but has offered open talks.

North Korea has rejected US offers to resume diplomacy, saying it will not return to talks unless Washington abandons what it describes as hostile policies. The North is furious at both the sanctions and the regular military exercises the United States is conducting with South Korea.

The tests also have a technical component, allowing North Korea to improve its weapon arsenal. One of the recently tested missiles, the Hwasong-12 medium-range ballistic missile, can reach the US territory of Guam. It was the longest-ranged weapon the North has tested since 2017.

North Korea appears to be pausing its testing during the Winter Olympics in China, its key ally and economic lifeline. But analysts believe North Korea will dramatically step up its weapons testing after the Olympics.

The latest tests have unsettled Pyongyang's neighbors in South Korea and Japan. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who helped oversee historic talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019, said last month that the tests violated UN Security Council resolutions and urged up the north to stop it. Actions that create tension and pressure."

The Security Council first imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006. It tightened them in response to more nuclear testing and the country's increasingly sophisticated nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

China and Russia, citing the north's economic difficulties, have called for the lifting of sanctions such as banning seafood exports and prohibiting their citizens from working abroad and sending their earnings home.

Blinken came to Hawaii from Fiji, where he met with incumbent Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and other Pacific leaders to discuss regional issues, particularly the existential risk of climate change. It was the first visit by a US Secretary of State to Fiji since 1985.

He started his Pacific tour in Australia where he met his colleagues from Australia, India and Japan. The four nations form the "Quad," a bloc of Indo-Pacific democracies created to counter China's regional influence.