Following meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington on Friday, Biden said he’s appointing Ambassador Sung Kim to be the special envoy and that the U.S. and South Korea are willing to take “pragmatic steps” to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
“We are both deeply concerned about the situation” on the peninsula, Biden said at the start of a press conference on Friday, adding that “total denuclearization is our objective.”
Moon praised the appointment of Sung Kim, a career diplomat, and said he hoped for a positive response from North Korea’s government over the commitment to diplomatic outreach. Sung Kim has been serving as American ambassador to Indonesia after previously serving as chief American envoy to the Philippines and South Korea.
Moon has been eager during the final year of his presidency to revive peace negotiations with North Korea, his signature diplomatic effort. Yet that push largely stalled after a series of failed summits between former President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
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Prospects for a breakthrough deal have faded, with North Korea largely cutting off contact with the U.S. and Moon. At the same time, Kim has continued with his nuclear and ballistic missile programs and fired short-range weapons in violation of United Nations resolutions.
The Biden administration sees North Korea’s nuclear program as a serious threat to the U.S.and the world. But Biden — in contrast to Trump — has focused his efforts on smaller steps designed to bolster regional security. Biden has indicated he will not prioritize direct talks with his North Korean counterpart.
In late March Biden warned North Korea against continued missile tests, saying “there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly.”