,SEOUL - A top North Korean diplomat acknowledged on Thursday that the United States had recently tried to initiate contact, but blasted the attempts as a "cheap trick" that would never be answered until Washington dropped hostile policies. The statement by Choe Son Hui, first vice minister of foreign affairs for North Korea, is the first formal rejection of tentative approaches by the new U.S. administration under President Joe Biden, who took office in January. It came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting South Korea alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a first overseas trip by top-level members of Biden's administration. The attempts at contact were made by sending e-mails and telephone messages via various routes, including by a third country, Choe said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA. She called the attempts at contact a "cheap trick" for gaining time and building up public opinion. "What has been heard from the U.S. since the emergence of the new regime is only lunatic theory of 'threat from North Korea' and groundless rhetoric about 'complete denuclearisation,' Choe said. The White House said earlier this month it had reached out to North Korea, but received no response, and did not elaborate. Speaking in Seoul on Wednesday, Blinken accused North Korea of committing "systemic and widespread abuses" against its own people and said the United States and its allies were committed to the denuclearisation of North Korea. Blinken and Austin are due to continue meetings with South Korean leaders on Thursday, before flying to Alaska for the administration's first talks with Chinese officials, where the North Korea standoff is expected to be discussed. Talks aimed at reducing tensions with North Korea and persuading it to give up its arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles have been stalled since 2019, after a series of historic summits between then-U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Choe criticized the United States for continuing military drills, and for maintaining sanctions aimed at pressuring Pyongyang. No dialogue would be possible until the United States rolled back its hostile policy toward North Korea and both parties were able to exchange words on an equal basis, she said. REUTERS
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