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Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
North Korea’s nuclear proliferation and “malicious” cyber crimes are among the U.S. State Department’s top priorities in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a new report put out by the department on Monday.
The report — essentially a midterm update on how well the State Department has implemented its part of the Trump administration’s Asia-Pacific strategy — mentioned the DPRK only twice, focusing briefly on two aspects of the North’s alleged misbehavior.
“The United States is increasing support to our Indo-Pacific partners to defend their networks and counter malicious cyber activities by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK),” the report said, also mentioning China and Russia by name as perpetrators of cyber crime.
Those nations and the DPRK, the report said, “seek to steal money, intellectual property, and other sensitive information.”
The report also focused on the North’s nuclear program — perhaps the main point of disagreement between the U.S. and DPRK — and the State Department’s commitment to “counter” it.
“The United States also works with partners on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and other dangerous materials,” the report said.
“Together, we counter DPRK proliferation activities, enforce United States and UN Security Council sanctions, build strategic trade control frameworks, educate industry on their compliance obligations, and strengthen the enforcement at key land, maritime, and air ports of entry.”
Much of the report also focused on the U.S.’s relationships and cooperation with its allies, including South Korea, discussing a “vision” that is “based on values that have underpinned peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific for generations.”
“Free, fair, and reciprocal trade, open investment environments, good governance, and freedom of the seas are goals shared by all who wish to prosper in a free and open future,” the report said.
The new, public report put out by the State Department comes about a month after top diplomats from Washington and Pyongyang met in Stockholm and attempted to negotiate a deal over sanctions relief and the future of the North’s nuclear program.
Both sides walked away empty-handed, and no further meetings between the two countries have been announced as of yet.
Last week, the American envoy in the negotiations, Stephen Biegun, was nominated by U.S. President Donald Trump to become the State Department’s second-ranked official, the Deputy Secretary of State.
One former State Department official cautioned against reading too much into how this new policy report might affect negotiations between the U.S. and DPRK.
“These big State Department documents aren’t designed to support a negotiating position so much as represent the positions and interests of various parts of the U.S. government, and State couldn’t reasonably talk about cyber or WMDs without mentioning North Korea,” Mintaro Oba, a former State Department East Asia desk officer, told NK News.
“There’s no North Korea negotiation strategy at play here,” he said. “This is bureaucratic inertia, pure and simple.”
The report was published while the State Department’s top Asia official, David Stilwell, was in the middle of a two-week trip across the Asian continent.
On Tuesday, Stilwell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, is expected to arrive in Seoul for two days of meetings with South Korean government officials.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News