WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday described North Korea's government as "an illegal and illegitimate regime."
Kerry used the unusually tough language as he met Kuwait Foreign Minister Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah and credited the Gulf nation for its efforts in countering the North's proliferation activities.
Kerry said Kuwait has "recently taken steps to curb flights and to make sure that revenues from workers are not sustaining an illegal and illegitimate regime in North Korea."
The U.S. routinely condemns North Korea's nuclear and missile tests as violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions and is also deeply critical of the North's human rights record.
It is less typical for U.S. officials to question directly the legitimacy of the hereditary regime of leader Kim Jong Un.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said later that Kerry's comments reflected deep U.S. concern over illegal and provocative actions by Kim's government and did not signal a policy change.
"The actions of the North Korean regime are what give the international community such concern, and he was speaking to the fact that those actions, the provocative behavior that the regime continues to display, are absolutely violations of international law," Kirby told reporters.
Kirby said the U.S. wants to see a return to long-stalled aid-for-disarmament talks. He would not directly respond to a question about whether Kim had lost the legitimacy to lead.