South Korean President Moon Jae-in hailed America’s “return” to the world stage after meeting with President Joe Biden on Friday and said the two leaders pledged to work closely together for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Moon came to Washington seeking renewed diplomatic urgency from the United States to curb North Korea’s nuclear program, even as the White House had signaled it was considering the matter longer. term. At the top of Biden’s list for the meeting as well: coordination in vaccine distribution, climate change, and regional security concerns spurred by China.
Their meeting was only Biden’s second in-person session with a foreign leader due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Their formal talks in the afternoon went on for a long time, Biden said, noting that his staff had been repeatedly interrupted to warn that they had exceeded the time. “But I enjoyed the meeting so much that it caused us to put everything back,” Biden said, pointing to the “long history of shared sacrifice of both countries.”
Moon said, “The world welcomes the return of America,” an oblique reference to former President Donald Trump’s attempts to disengage from certain aspects of American diplomacy.
The White House announced last month that it had completed a review of North Korea’s policy and that Biden would deviate from the strategies of his two most recent predecessors, rejecting both Trump’s deeply personal effort to conquer the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the other hands of Barack Obama. approach-off.
But the administration has yet to detail what its third effort will look like to try to get the North to abandon its nuclear program.
Moon started his day at the White House compound by meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris and Biden’s top advisers. Moon also participated in a Medal of Honor ceremony for Ralph Puckett, a 94-year-old military veteran who was celebrated for his bravery during the Korean War over 60 years ago.
âWithout the sacrifice of veterans, including Colonel Puckett … the freedom and democracy we enjoy today could not have flourished in Korea,â said Moon, who hailed Puckett as a â true hero â.
Moon, who will step down next May, is eager to resume stalled talks between Washington and Pyongyang and between Seoul and Pyongyang. But the Biden administration, which confirmed in March that it had made unsuccessful northern outreach efforts, has been less enthusiastic about direct negotiations in the short term.
When asked Thursday if Biden was open to direct talks with Kim, as Trump has twice done, press secretary Jen Psaki objected.
âI don’t expect this to be high on her agenda,â she said of Biden.
Still, Moon made it clear ahead of the meeting that he would urge Biden to renew his diplomatic efforts with the North.
“I won’t be pressed for time or become impatient for the remainder of my tenure,” Moon told reporters this month. âHowever, if there is an opportunity to restart the peace clock and move the peace process forward on the Korean Peninsula, I will do whatever I can.
A senior administration official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and briefed reporters on Moon’s visit on condition of anonymity, evaded questions of whether the administration was willing to offer. North Korea’s sanctions relief to begin dismantling its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.
The official said the United States hoped to chart a “flexible” path forward, well aware of the misbehavior of past efforts.
Biden was also expected to use the meeting to pressure South Korea to adopt a more ambitious 2030 target to reduce carbon emissions and to urge Seoul to do more to counter the growing influence of the United States. China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Moon was expected to seek Biden’s help in helping South Korea increase its supply of coronavirus vaccines. South Korea has only vaccinated about 5% of its population.
Biden also wanted Moon to take a tough stance on China’s activity towards Taiwan and other provocative steps Beijing has taken in the region. Biden has sought to rally Pacific allies to coordinate on China, which Biden sees as America’s fiercest economic competitor.
Biden, at the start of his presidency, expressed concerns about Beijing’s trade policy and human rights record and also underscored the concerns of regional allies over an increasingly assertive Chinese military.
Biden took note of Japan’s concerns that China’s growing military activity and its vast territorial claims pose a security threat. Japan is locked in a dispute with China over Beijing’s claim to the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea. He also sought to strengthen relations with India, which has been tested by a military standoff with China along their disputed border in eastern Ladakh.
But South Korea might be more reluctant to speak openly about China, an important trading partner it also sees as essential in dealing with the Kim regime.
Michael Green, who was senior director for Asia at the National Security Council under the George W. Bush administration, said the situation in South Korea was difficult.
“This South Korean policy of strategic ambiguity is proving more and more delicate and almost untenable for Seoul because other middle powers which are neither the United States nor Japan … are adjusting their Chinese policies,” he said. said Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan. Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
On Thursday, Moon traveled to Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington and laid a wreath on a memorial to Americans killed in the Korean War. He also traveled to the United States Capitol to meet with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.