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Basic Direction of Biden Government’s N. Korea Policy/ Agenda of S. Korea-U.S. Summit



South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden will hold their first summit in Washington D.C. on May 21. Here’s political commentator Lee Jong-hoon to explain the implications of the upcoming summit. 

The first South Korea-U.S. summit since the inauguration of the Biden government will take place after the U.S. completes a review of its North Korea policy, meaning that the U.S. has finished its preparations for dialogue with North Korea. The summit will be a venue to minimize any differences between South Korea and the U.S. before the two nations resume their talks. 

The Biden government completed a review of its North Korea policy and unveiled its basic direction on April 30, about 100 days after it took office. It clarified the goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. For that purpose, the new U.S. government seeks to use a new approach that will be different from its predecessors’. 

The Biden administration has often used the phrase, “denuclearization of North Korea.” But it has accepted the concept of “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” advocated by the South Korean government. It seems South Korea and the U.S. narrowed their difference in this part. 

Regarding its North Korea policy, the U.S. says that it will take a new course, rather than choose a top-down “grand bargain” sought by the Donald Trump administration, or rely on “strategic patience” of the Barack Obama government. 

The U.S. also says that it will pursue a practical approach that will explore diplomacy with North Korea while making practical progress on strengthening security for the U.S. and its allies. 

A day after the U.S. disclosed the basic outline of its North Korea policy, North Korea announced three separate statements. In a statement released in the name of Kwon Jong-gun, director-general of the Department of U.S. Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, North Korea denounced Biden’s recent address to U.S. Congress. In his first congressional speech, Biden said that the U.S. will address the North Korean nuclear threats through “diplomacy and stern deterrence.” 

In another statement, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman made a sensitive response to U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price’s criticism of North Korea’s human rights situation. Price said that North Korea is one of the most repressive and totalitarian states in the world. 

Kwon blasted the American president for making a “big blunder” and even threatened to take corresponding measures against the U.S. It is reported that Pyongyang rejected Washington’s dialogue proposal a few months ago. North Korea’s recent harsh rhetoric is interpreted as its strategy to up the ante ahead of any negotiations with the U.S. 

The Biden administration will likely use the North Korean human rights issue as leverage to resolve the nuclear issue. The statement by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman shows that the North is trying to thwart the U.S. move. It says that the U.S. insulted the dignity of its supreme leadership and it clearly showed the U.S. is girding itself up for an all-out showdown. North Korea says that it will punish this sternly in light of national sovereignty. 

While the two North Korean statements are seen as a message of pressure and warning against the U.S., North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong lashed out at South Korea for failing to prevent a group of North Korean defectors from flying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border to the North. It is very unusual that North Korea released three different statements simultaneously. The messages indicate Pyongyang’s displeasure with Washington’s review of its North Korea policy.  

North Korea is preparing for dialogue with the U.S. in the belief that bilateral talks will resume sooner or later. The two strongly-worded statements in the name of relatively low-level officials indirectly show North Korea’s commitment to dialogue with the U.S. In another statement in the name of Kim Yo-jong, North Korea warned that South Korean authorities should take responsibility for the release of anti-North Korean leaflets by a defector group. Some are concerned that the North may launch a military provocation, but others say that North Korea’s warning is aimed at raising its bargaining power at future inter-Korean talks. 

U.S. media outlets gave major coverage to Pyongyang’s recent statements criticizing the Biden government’s North Korea policy. The U.S. administration has also made a quick response. Speaking to ABC News in an interview, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the Biden administration’s new North Korea policy is not aimed at hostility but solutions. 

The U.S. has two strategic goals. It needs to deter North Korea’s provocations in the short term and it should persuade North Korea to return to the dialogue table in the mid and long term. Sullivan made the remarks right after North Korea released statements. 

In a sense, this is considered to be indirect dialogue. Sullivan says that the U.S. administration is prepared to engage in diplomacy with North Korea for the ultimate goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That is, the U.S. has stressed once again that it is ready for dialogue. I think the two sides may resume dialogue, possibly starting with working-level talks. 

Meanwhile, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken held talks in London on Monday on the sidelines of the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ meeting. During the talks, Blinken shared Biden’s North Korea policy review with Chung, who welcomed it as a realistic and practical direction. The two also agreed to closely cooperate for a successful South Korea-U.S. summit scheduled for May 21. Now, attention turns to the key agenda of the upcoming summit. 

The South Korean government believes that it is necessary to resume North Korea-U.S. dialogue quickly. It hopes for the declaration of an official end to the Korean War in the first stage, if possible, to create a favorable environment for future negotiations. South Korea also wants the U.S. to ease part of its sanctions against North Korea. President Moon will emphasize this during the South Korea-U.S. summit. I imagine the U.S. will not be very enthusiastic about the end-of-war declaration but will show a positive response to the need for a swift resumption of talks. In regards to the sanctions relief, the U.S. will not be entirely negative. Seoul’s North Korea policy shares something in common with Biden’s phased approach. If South Korea and the U.S. manage to coordinate some of their differing views, the bilateral summit will be considered successful.

With the U.S. policy review on North Korea completed, the South Korea-U.S. summit later this month may serve as a watershed event in regional diplomacy. Attention is drawn to the next move of North Korea, which has been stepping up its offensive against the U.S. and South Korea. 

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