WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House Friday as the two leaders seek complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula after past U.S. administrations failed in that objective.
Biden is pushing a middle ground between the “grand bargain” approach of former President Donald Trump and Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
The gathering will mark Biden’s second in-person bilateral meeting in his young presidency after hosting Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House last month. It comes after the Biden administration recently completed a policy review of North Korea, whose nuclear program Biden labeled a “serious threat” in his first address to Congress.
While Trump took the unprecedented step of meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – regularly showering him with praise and admiration – Biden supports a “calibrated, practical approach” to pursue denuclearization, White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said.
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That includes exploring diplomacy with North Korea with a goal of “practical progress” to increase the security of the U.S. and allies. Biden and Moon are expected to discuss that approach Friday, though the White House has not detailed the strategies involved.
“We understand where previous efforts in the past have had difficulties and we’re determined to try to learn from those past efforts,” said a senior Biden administration official, who agreed to discuss the president’s foreign policy with Korea on the condition of anonymity.
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Seoul for four days in March, making the Biden administration’s first Cabinet-level trip overseas.
Also in March, the Biden administration discreetly reached out to the North Korean government “to reduce the risks of escalation,” an administration official said at the time, but did not receive a response. Later that month, North Korea conducted short-range missile tests, days after the sister of Kim threatened the U.S. and South Korea for holding joint military exercises.
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Biden officials downplayed the significance of tests that were not prohibited under UN Security Council resolutions. North Korea has not conducted nuclear or long-range missile tests since Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Kim in Singapore in 2018, but analysts believe that North Korea has not relinquished its nuclear capability. Three summits between Kim and Trump did not produce a concrete nuclear agreement.
“I don’t expect that to be top on his agenda,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday when asked whether Biden has ruled out a meeting with Kim.
Matthew Ha, a research analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a right-leaning foreign policy think tank, said Biden and Moon need to coordinate a “shared and combined policy strategy” for North Korea that defines “underlying assumptions regarding the Kim regime’s strategic interests and objectives.”
Biden will also reaffirm the “ironclad alliance” between the U.S. and South Korea during Friday’s meeting, the administration official said, and discuss global health, efforts to combat climate change and collaboration on new technology.
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Moon is also expected to use the meeting, according to Reuters, to seek a partnership to tap into the U.S. supply of COVID-19 vaccines. This week Biden announced the U.S. will share 20 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in addition to 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has not been authorized for emergency use in the U.S by the Food and Drug Administration.
Psaki said the administration will decide which countries receive vaccines based in an equitable and fair manner that reaches parts of the word that need it most.
Moon, who arrived in Washington Wednesday, will be joined by South Korean business leaders. They are set to take part in a White House roundtable with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and her South Korean counterpart to discuss investments in semiconductors, technology in batteries and 5G broadband.
Moon on Thursday visited Arlington National Cemetery, where he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
With Moon present, Biden on Friday will award the Medal of Honor to retired U.S. Army Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr. for his acts of gallantry in the Korean War. It will be the first time a foreign leader has ever participated in a presidential Medal of Honor ceremony.
Puckett, who served as commander of the 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company, three times ran across an open area while leading his unit during a daylight attack Nov. 25-26 1960, according to the White House. His efforts drew enemy fire, allowing rangers to seize control of a hill that the enemy had occupied.
Contributing: Staff writer Deirdre Shesgreen Associated Press. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.