US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday, May 21, injected fresh urgency into attempts to engage North Korea in dialogue over its nuclear weapons program with Biden saying he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un under the right conditions.
At a joint news conference, Biden and Moon both said the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is their goal. Biden said he was “under no illusions” about the difficulty of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenals after his predecessors failed.
“We both are deeply concerned about the situation,” Biden said.
North Korea thus far has rebuffed US entreaties for diplomacy since Biden took over from Donald Trump, who had three summits with Kim and the two famously exchanged “beautiful letters.” Kim nonetheless refused to give up his nuclear weapons but did impose a freeze on testing them.
Biden said he would be willing to meet Kim under the right conditions, depending on if Kim agreed to discuss his nuclear program and that his advisers first met with their North Korean counterparts to lay the groundwork for talks between the leaders.
Biden said for him to meet with Kim there would have to be a commitment from the North Korean leader “that there’s discussion about his nuclear arsenal.”
“I would not do what had been done in the recent past; I would not give him all he’s looking for – international recognition as legitimate and allow him to move in the direction of appearing to be more… serious about what he wasn’t at all serious about,” he said.
Biden’s comments appeared to reflect a shift in his thinking about a meeting. The White House had said in March it was not Biden’s intention to meet with Kim.
Biden’s administration in its early months undertook a broad review of North Korea policy but has said little about what the new policy actually entails.
US officials have said only that Biden’s policy would not be the approach favored by President Barack Obama of refusing to engage the North, and not Trump’s flashy summitry.
In their day of talks, Biden and Moon reaffirmed the strong alliance between the two countries after the strains created by Trump, who badgered Moon as weak and threatened to pull US troops out of South Korea.
Moon was the second foreign leader – after Japan’s prime minister – to visit the White House since Biden took office in January, and Biden said their conversations amounted to talks between “old friends.”
The two leaders also discussed China and Taiwan. Taiwan has complained of repeated military activities by Beijing in recent months, with China’s air force making frequent forays into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.
“We’ve shared the view that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is extremely important, and we agreed to work together on that matter while considering special characteristics in relations between China and Taiwan,” Moon said.
Moon said the United States and South Korea would combine capabilities to supply COVID-19 vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region. They also discussed how to tackle climate change.
But North Korea dominated their joint news conference, held in the White House East Room.
Biden said the two countries will have a “shared approach” to North Korea and that he and Moon shared a willingness to engage diplomatically with the North “to take pragmatic steps to reduce tensions.”
Biden said a State Department official, Sung Kim, would serve as a special US envoy for North Korea. Moon said the envoy would help explore whether North Korea is willing to engage diplomatically and he expected a positive response from Pyongyang.
Sung Kim is a veteran Korean-American diplomat who has served as ambassador to the Philippines and Indonesia and most recently in an acting capacity as the top US diplomat for East Asia. He led preparatory talks to set up the Trump-Kim summits.
Moon welcomed what he called Biden’s realistic, pragmatic approach to North Korea and called denuclearization a top priority. – Rappler.com