Biden says ‘hello’ to North Korea’s Kim amid tensions over weapons tests

 
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Reuters

Published: 22 May 2022 11:03 AM BdST
Updated: 22 May 2022 11:03 AM BdST

US President Joe Biden, in Seoul before heading to Japan as part of his first Asia trip as president, had a simple message for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un: “Hello… period,” he told reporters on the last day of his visit to South Korea on Sunday.

Biden said he was “not concerned” about new North
Korean nuclear tests, which would be the first in nearly five years.

But his wry response when asked what message he had for Kim
underscored the administration’s low-key approach to the unresolved tensions
with North Korea. It is a stark contrast with former President Donald Trump’s
showy threats, summits, and “love letters” with Kim.

Neither president’s approach has led to a major
breakthrough, however, and North Korea has resumed testing its largest
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), while intelligence reports suggest
it is preparing for a new nuclear test.

“We are prepared for anything North Korea does,” Biden said.

A day earlier, Biden and his new South Korean counterpart,
President Yoon Suk-yeol, agreed to consider bigger military exercises and
potentially deploying more nuclear-capable American weapons to the region in
response to the North’s weapons tests.

North Korea has not responded to US overtures, including
offers of COVID-19 vaccines, Biden said on Saturday, noting that he was willing
to sit down with Kim if he thought it would lead to a serious breakthrough.

COVID-19 restrictions may be playing a role in North Korea’s
lack of response, a senior US administration official said.

North Korea has said the US overtures are insincere because
Washington maintains “hostile policies” such as military drills and
sanctions.

When asked whether Biden was willing to take concrete steps
to break the stalemate, the official said that the administration was looking
for serious engagement, not grand gestures.

“This is a decision that only the DPRK can make,”
the official said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

REGIONAL TEAM-BUILDING

Biden’s focus during the trip has been on rallying
“like-minded” democracies to cooperate more, part of broader efforts
to counter China’s rising influence and exert pressure on Russia over its war
in Ukraine.

On the second leg of the trip, Biden will meet with leaders
of Japan, India and Australia, a grouping known as the Quad, another
cornerstone of his strategy to push back against China’s expanding influence.

Yoon has shown interest in working more closely with the
Quad, but the US official said there was no consideration of adding Seoul to
the group.

“It’s natural… to think about ways in which you can
work with other like-minded democracies, but I think it’s also important to
recognise that the goal right now is to develop and build out what has already
been laid out,” the official said.

Tokyo will also see the launch on Monday of Biden’s
long-awaited Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a programme
intended to bind regional countries more closely via common standards in areas
including supply-chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital
trade.

The US official declined to identify which countries might
sign on to the IPEF, but said they were satisfied with “very strong interest”
throughout the region in participating.

Before departing to Japan, Biden met with the chairman of
Hyundai Motor Group, which announced on Sunday it would invest $5 billion in
the United States through 2025 to strengthen its collaboration with US firms in
diverse technologies, such as robotics, urban air mobility, autonomous driving
and artificial intelligence.

Biden was also due to tour a US military base with Yoon.

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Tami Mischke