US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks with South Korea's Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong during a meeting in London

London (AFP) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday opened the Group of Seven’s first in-person talks in two years by presenting the new administration’s fresh approach on North Korea, which has already denounced it.

With Covid raging in India but increasingly coming under control in the West, Britain welcomed foreign ministers of the club of wealthy democracies to London to discuss a post-pandemic agenda and prepare for a G7 summit in southwest England next month.

India, South Korea, South Africa and ASEAN bloc chair Brunei were invited as guests to the three days of talks, which will also address rising tensions with Russia and China as well as diplomacy to revive a nuclear accord with Iran.

Amid stringent anti-Covid measures including restrictions on movements, Blinken met separately at his hotel with the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea days after President Joe Biden completed a review on North Korea policy.

“We are grateful to have this opportunity to have in-depth discussions with the US after the conclusion of your policy review,” South Korean Chung Eui-yong said, as he welcomed the “very positive and open message” by Biden in his address to Congress last week.

The State Department said in statements that both Chung and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi – who will meet again with Blinken in three-way talks Wednesday – agreed on the goal of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

- Middle path on North Korea -

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lands at Stansted Airport, northeast of London on May 2, 2021, ahead of the G7 foreign ministers meeting

Biden ordered an assessment of North Korea policy after his predecessor Donald Trump’s unusual, highly personalised diplomacy that featured three made-for-television meetings with the totalitarian state’s young leader Kim Jong Un.

The review proposed a middle ground by moving away from Trump’s ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful bid to reach a far-reaching agreement that, after seven decades, could finally bring an official end to the Korean War.

But the White House also said it would engage with North Korea, a shift from former president Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” – or, keeping Pyongyang at arm’s length until its behaviour changes.

North Korea on Sunday denounced the Biden approach, saying US diplomacy was a “spurious signboard for covering up its hostile acts”.

US officials largely expected a strident reaction from North Korea, which is known for its colourful statements, including in 2019 describing Biden as a “rabid dog” who “must be beaten to death with a stick”.

- Pressing Myanmar -

Blinken also raised the growing turbulence in Myanmar both with Japan – which has comparatively open channels to the military, which seized power on February 1 – and Brunei, a little more than a week after ASEAN leaders invited the junta chief to a summit and urged an end to the violence.

Protesters make a three-finger salute as they take part in a flash mob as part of demonstrations against the military coup in Yangon

Blinken and the Japanese foreign minister “discussed the urgent need to put Burma on the path back towards democracy and to hold the military junta to account,” the State Department said, using Myanmar’s former name.

Security forces have killed hundreds of people as they repress nearly daily protests while ethnic violence has also been rising, with the Karen Independence Army on Monday claiming responsibility for downing a military helicopter.

Iran as well as North Korea will be on the agenda for a welcoming dinner Monday that opens the G7.

Both the United States and Britain have played down reports that Iran will release their respective nationals from captivity as diplomacy steps up.

Britain said that talks were still continuing and denounced the “torture” of dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after Iranian state television said that she could be released from years of detention after London settles an old debt.

After the G7, Blinken will head Wednesday to Ukraine in a show of support after Russia last month deployed but then pulled back some 100,000 troops along its border and in annexed Crimea.