- The Washington Times
Sunday, May 23, 2021

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the ball is now in North Korea’s court on denuclearization talks, after President Biden on Friday declined to rule out a possible meeting with leader Kim Jong-un if progress first gets made on the diplomatic front.

Mr. Blinken said the U.S. shouldn’t have to live with a nuclear North Korea but pointed out that strategies from multiple previous administrations to deal with Pyongyang haven’t made significant headway.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a grand bargain where this gets resolved in one fell swoop,” Mr. Blinken said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s got to be clearly calibrated diplomacy, clear steps from the North Koreans, and it moves forward in that way.”

He said the U.S. is now waiting for Pyongyang to engage.

“The ball’s in their court,” he said. “We’ve made clear we’re prepared to pursue this diplomatically even as the sanctions remain in place because North Korea continues to engage in activities that are clearly prohibited by the United Nations. But we’re prepared to do the diplomacy. The question is: Is North Korea?”

Mr. Blinken’s comments came after Mr. Biden talked denuclearization as he hosted South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a series of meetings at the White House last week.

Mr. Biden didn’t rule out a possible meeting with Mr. Kim but said he wouldn’t follow the path of former President Donald Trump, who held a series of unprecedented personal visits with the reclusive North Korean leader without managing to strike a final deal.

Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump’s approach amounted to giving Mr. Kim “all he’s looking for.”

“I would not do what had been done in the recent past,” Mr. Biden said, without mentioning his predecessor’s name. “I would not give [Mr. Kim] 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.”

Mr. Trump held two summits with Mr. Kim, breaking a long-running U.S. practice of not engaging North Korea personally, and stepped across the heavily armed DMZ on the Korean Peninsula for another meeting. But he did not achieve a breakthrough on beginning to dismantle Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear-weapons programs.

At a White House press conference with Mr. Moon, Mr. Biden said the goal of the U.S. “remains complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“We’re under no illusions about how difficult this is,” the president said. “The past four administrations have not achieved the objective. It’s an incredibly difficult objective.”

The president also announced that he tapped Sung Kim, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, as special envoy to North Korea.

The administration recently completed a view of its policy toward North Korea. Mr. Biden said his advisers closely consulted with South Korea during its policy review.

He said he and Mr. Moon, a longtime proponent of engagement with the North, spoke Friday about their “shared approach [to] the continuing threat of the DPRK nuclear and missile programs.”

“We both are deeply concerned about the situation,” Mr. Biden said. “Our two nations also share a willingness to engage diplomatically with [North Korea] to take pragmatic steps that will reduce tensions, as we move toward our ultimate goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Mr. Moon’s visit marked the second time Mr. Biden hosted a foreign leader at the White House for official talks since taking office in January. He welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last month.

The choices for Mr. Biden’s first two in-person visits illustrate how critical his administration views the Indo-Pacific region amid the persistent threats from North Korea and a rising China.

The White House said after the Friday meetings that the U.S. and South Korea pledged to work together on other major issues like climate change, coronavirus vaccine distribution, and research and development.

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