North Korea top priority in first meeting between Biden and South Korean leader

North Korea top priority in first meeting between Biden and South Korean leader
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President BidenJoe BidenBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Former New York state Senate candidate charged in riot MORE and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will discuss a diplomatic approach to achieving the denuclearization of North Korea during their face-to-face meeting at the White House, according to a senior administration official.

The meeting, set for Friday, is Biden’s second, in-person, bilateral summit following a visit in April by Japan’s prime minister.

Japan and South Korea are key U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific and security partners on a host of issues that include deterring the nuclear threat from North Korea and confronting China’s ambitions in the region.


The senior administration official said that Biden is expected to reaffirm the U.S.’s “ironclad” alliance with South Korea and that Seoul serves as the “linchpin of the security, prosperity for Northeast Asia, and a free and open Indo-Pacific and across the world.”

Top of the agenda will be the U.S. approach to North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), with the senior administration official saying the meeting with Moon will be an opportunity to discuss details of the Biden administration’s “calibrated, practical approach” to the ultimate goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The Biden administration announced last month it had completed a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, but refrained from committing to any specifics. 

North Korea’s illicit nuclear weapons program is a serious concern for the U.S. and the international community. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned in a speech to the agency in March that the the country's nuclear program is “deeply regrettable” and a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The senior administration official said the Biden team seeks a middle road compared to the approaches tried during previous administrations, with details expected to be discussed during Moon’s visit.

This includes eschewing the former Trump administration’s approach of a “grand bargain," where successive face-to-face meetings failed to achieve denuclearization, but looking to “build upon” the agreement signed by former President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE and North Korean Leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnKoreas in talks over possible summit: report The Koreas are talking again — Moon is for real, but what about Kim? Koreas restore communication links, vow to improve relations MORE in Singapore in 2018.


“We intend to build on the Singapore agreement, but also other agreements made by previous administrations,” the official said.

The Singapore document, signed during a historic first meeting between Trump and Kim, established four primary points.

It stated that relations between the U.S. and North Korea had the aim of achieving “peace and prosperity,” of working toward building “a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula; of working towards complete denuclearization of the DPRK; and addressing unrecovered remains of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action."

The Biden team will not, however, try “strategic patience,” a phrase coined during the Obama administration and a strategy that held off engaging with North Korea until Pyongyang changed its behavior.

“Our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience,” the official said.

“Our policy calls for a calibrated practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies and our deployed forces.”

But North Korea reacted angrily to Biden calling for “diplomacy” and “stern deterrence” during his address to a joint session of Congress at the end of April. 

Kwon Jong Gun, Pyongyang’s top official for U.S. affairs, called Biden’s remarks “intolerable” and warned that the U.S. will face “a very grave situation” if it follows through on its stated policy. 

Pyongyang also reportedly ignored attempts by the Biden administration to establish behind-the-scenes diplomatic contact.  

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader and a senior official for inter-Korean affairs, also issued a warning against the U.S. not to cause a “stink” — responding to a visit by Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBlinken calls US-India relationship 'vital' during official visit US sanctioning Syrian officials, groups over human rights abuses Chinese officials meeting with Taliban ahead of US withdrawal MORE and Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinBlinken calls US-India relationship 'vital' during official visit Senate panel advances Navy secretary nominee Biden zigzags on China policy MORE to Seoul in March.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off [gun] powder smell in our land,” she reportedly said. “If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

The senior administration official stressed that the diplomatic strategy the administration is working on is likely to be kept private. 

Other highlights of Biden’s meeting with Moon will be a ceremony awarding the Medal of Honor to retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. for conspicuous gallantry during the Korean War, particularly for leadership actions under enemy fire in November 1950. 

It is the first time a foreign leader has ever participated in the awarding of a Medal of Honor.

Biden and Moon are also expected to have extensive conversations on global health security, combating climate change, development of people-to-people ties and business opportunities.

Moon is traveling with a number of South Korean CEOs and “substantial commitments” of investments in technology as part of efforts to invest in innovating supply chains and increasing business development, the official said.

“We believe that this is a very strong commitment on the part of South Korea, in President Biden's desire to enhance our technology capabilities and build back better,” the official said.

Updated at 8:35 a.m.