Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, warned the United States on Tuesday against "causing a stink" if it wants to "sleep in peace," a rhetorical warning shot issued as Antony Blinken arrived in Japan for his first overseas trip as secretary of state.
In Tokyo, Blinken said the U.S. would continue to work with its regional allies toward North Korea's denuclearization and to counter China's growing "coercion and aggression" in Asia, according to a joint U.S.-Japan statement.
Kim Yo Jong said North Korea took "this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land," an apparent reference to gunpowder.
"If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step," she added, according to the state news agency KCNA.
The statement is the first public comment from North Korea directed at the Biden administration.
Blinken and a team that includes Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will next head to South Korea. The meetings in Tokyo and Seoul are part of the White House's effort to reassure allies in Asia concerned after four years of sometimes difficult dealings with former President Donald Trump.
"Recognizing that North Korea's arsenal poses a threat to international peace and stability, the ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the complete denuclearization of North Korea," the joint statement said, echoing a similar stance taken by the U.S. during the Trump era.
But President Joe Biden's team have taken a less outwardly assertive approach than their predecessors and have conducted a wide review of North Korea policy. Senior current and former administration officials told NBC News that Biden's national security team had decided to take a softer public tone toward the country, after concluding that provoking Pyongyang could counter U.S. goals.
"We don't have a direct comment or response to the comments made from North Korea," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday.
Blinken's trip is also set to reaffirm U.S. alliances in Asia, amid an increasingly assertive Beijing.
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On Friday, Biden attended a virtual summit with leaders of Japan, Australia and India — known as the "Quad" group — underscoring the priority of Asia in his foreign policy agenda.
U.S. relations with North Korea rose and fell under Trump. In 2018, Trump mused that he and Kim Jong Un "fell in love" after exchanging letters. He also tweeted that Americans can "sleep well at night" knowing that North Korea was prepared to give up its nuclear weapons. It did not.
In 2019, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to step onto North Korean soil. He held three high-profile summit meetings with Kim but relations soured as the nuclear-armed state ended talks.
Reuters contributed to this report.