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South Korea's Moon to promote North Korea diplomacy at summit with US's Biden

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 21st National Assembly, in Seoul, South Korea, on July 16, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Two days ahead of a summit with US President Joe Biden, South Korean President Moon Jae-in seeks to use the opportunity of his visit to Washington to revive long-stalled talks with North Korea and urge the White House to take the issue more seriously.

Moon is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Thursday for a four-day visit that will include his first meetings with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Congressional leaders to talk about Pyongyang and related issues.

According to South Korean officials, Seoul is optimistic about Washington's recent North Korea policy review.

A senior Seoul official told Reuters anonymously that the Biden administration's purported openness to dialog with Pyongyang was a "good sign" that could prepare the ground for a resumption of negotiations.

"We believe there could be a serious attempt at reopening dialog and both sides could actually sit face to face at some point," the official said, adding that Seoul would do its best to facilitate any such talks.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters late last month that US policy "will not focus on achieving a grand bargain" with North Korea, "nor will it rely on strategic patience."

Instead, Psaki continued, the White House seeks "a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with [North Korea] and to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and deployed forces."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also claimed that the US administration is open to diplomatic talks with Pyongyang but it is "up to North Korea to decide whether it wants to engage" by taking action toward giving up its nuclear arms.

Despite the claims of openness, the US has so far refused to take any meaningful action of its own toward a rapprochement — however limited — with North Korea.

A senior US administration official who spoke anonymously to The Washington Post in late April said the Biden administration "fully intends to maintain sanctions pressure" while potential engagement was tried. 

The North has long demanded sanctions relief and has not tested nuclear weapons or long-range missiles since 2017.

Diplomatic negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been on hold since a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, in 2019.

Meanwhile, Moon's attempts to repair inter-Korean ties may be overshadowed by mounting domestic pressure on him to secure more and faster supplies of US-made coronavirus vaccines in the face of supply shortages and delays.

With his popularity dwindling due to the slowing inoculation campaign, Moon vowed on Monday that he would secure a vaccine partnership at the summit by leveraging South Korea's biotech production ability.

"Moon's administration could've thought of this summit as a chance to jointly devise concrete steps to flesh out the (US-North Korea) policy framework from the review, but there are too many issues that require a more immediate focus for both sides, including vaccine and economic cooperation," said Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean chief nuclear negotiator.

President Moon has stressed previously that his final year in office would be his last chance to reach a permanent peace with North Korea.

The two Koreas have been technically at war since the 1950s, when an actual war ended with a truce and not a ceasefire.


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