Kerry: ‘North Korea has never been left unattended to, not for one day’

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( – Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday disputed the suggestion that the administration has not given the North Korean nuclear threat enough attention as a result of its focus on the Iran nuclear talks and other issues, declaring that “North Korea has never been left unattended to, not for one day.”

“That premise [that the North Korean situation has been neglected] is absolutely inaccurate, it’s without foundation,” he told reporters in the State Department briefing room.

Pyongyang on Wednesday carried out a nuclear test – its fourth since 2006 – catapulting the reclusive Stalinist state back into the headlines around the world.

After delivering a statement to reporters dealing largely with holdups in Senate confirmation of State Department nominees, Kerry was leaving when a question called out by NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell brought him back to the podium.

Mitchell asked whether perhaps “too much time may have been paid to Iran and other challenges while North Korea was left without getting enough attention.”

“Let me just make it clear,” Kerry said. “North Korea has never been left unattended to, not for one day.”

He said the administration has had meetings and “constant consultations” on the issue.

North Korea had topped the agenda on the first trip he made as secretary of state to China, he added.

On that visit – during which he raised the question of climate change “that resulted in China joining with us” in making commitments on emission reductions, he said – “I spent most of that trip and most of that time on North Korea.”

(Kerry was sworn in as secretary of state on February 1, 2013. Eleven days later, North Korea carried out its third nuclear test. He traveled to China in April.)

Kerry said China – Pyongyang’s closest ally – had wanted to take a particular approach to its neighbor and that the U.S. agreed to respect that and “give them space to be able to implement that.”

But he said in conversation with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday he “made it very clear, that has not worked, and we cannot continue business as usual.”

Kerry insisted that “any number of trips, any number of conversations” had focused on the North Korean situation.

“That premise [that North Korea has been neglected] is absolutely inaccurate, it’s without foundation.”

Asked whether it was “time for China to crack down and get tough with North Korea,” Kerry deferred to State Department spokesman John Kirby, who was about to hold a daily press briefing.

“John will address it,” he said. “It’s time for everybody to make sure that this does not continue as business as usual.”

Written by Patrick Goodenough