President Joe Biden is looking to build on a denuclearization agreement former President Donald Trump reached with North Korea, a move likely to be welcomed by South Korea, which has seen it as a starting point for disarmament discussions.
Kurt Campbell, Biden’s Asia coordinator, made the administration’s first on-record comments that it would accede to the agreement struck in 2018 between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their summit in Singapore, Yonhap News reported Wednesday. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who meets Biden on Friday at the White House, has been looking for a U.S. commitment to the pact.
“Our policy review took a careful look at everything that has been tried before. Our efforts will build on Singapore and other agreements made by previous administrations,” Campbell said in a written interview, referring to the administration’s recently completed policy review on North Korea.
The Singapore summit resulted in a bare-bones declaration that included a call for the two sides “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” But the U.S. and North Korea never agreed on what they meant by denuclearization and the accord resulted in no tangible steps for Kim to wind down his arsenal.
Trump had called for the “complete, verifiable and irreversible” elimination of North Korea’s atomic arsenal before it could receive relief from sanctions choking its anemic economy. Pyongyang’s leaders have seen giving up the weapons as political suicide, and while the nuclear negotiations sputtered, Kim was busy adding to his stockpile of nuclear material and missiles that can deliver warheads to the U.S. and American allies.
Campbell said the Biden administration’s policy toward North Korea is not aimed at hostility, and Washington will work for the denuclearization of the peninsula. The new policy with North Korea will seek a “calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy,” he told Yonhap.
Kim earlier this year ratcheted up tensions for Biden when he said he would put his country on a path to develop more advanced nuclear technologies and missiles. A top North Korean official added to the pressure this month when he labeled Biden’s comment that Pyongyang’s nuclear program is a threat as “intolerable.”
Moon is set to leave Wednesday for a five-day visit to the U.S. He will be the second foreign leader to have face-to-face talks with the president, following an April meeting at the White House with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
South Korea and Japan host the bulk of U.S. troops in Asia, and Biden has been seeking help from the allies in security concerns posed by China and North Korea.
Story by Jon Herskovitz.