SEOUL – President Biden on Saturday showed a very different approach to the Korean peninsula than his predecessor, vowing to consider expanding joint military exercises with South Korea and taking a more jaundiced view of the prospect of direct talks with the leader of North Korea.
During his first meeting with President Yoon Suk-yeol, Mr. Biden sought to cement relations with South Korea, traditionally one of the United States’ strongest allies in Asia, after President Donald J. Trump’s volatile years. , who often undermined ties with the South while courting the North’s mercurial dictator, Kim Jong-un.
“The alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States has never been stronger, more vibrant or, may I add, more vital,” Mr Biden said, using the official name of South Korea, at a news conference in Seoul. with Mr Yoon. , which was inaugurated just 11 days ago.
Unlike Mr Trump, Mr Biden praised the continued presence of US troops in South Korea. “It symbolizes our strength and our continued strength and the sustainability of our alliance and our willingness to face all threats,” he said.
As for dealing with the nuclear-armed north, Mr. Biden was cautious and skeptical. He said the United States had already offered vaccines to North Korea to help it cope with what is reportedly a devastating coronavirus outbreak. “We have not received a response,” he said.
“Whether I would meet the leader of North Korea,” he added, “depends on whether he was sincere and whether it was serious.”
The president’s approach contrasted sharply with that of Mr. Trump, who during his four-year tenure wildly diverged from threatening the North with “fire and fury” to falling “in love” with Mr Kim.
In the end, the two leaders met three times. They did not reach a lasting agreement, but as part of his courtship, Mr Trump agreed to suspend major joint military exercises with South Korea that had long annoyed North Korean leaders without first contacting Seoul or the Pentagon. warn.
Mr Trump also questioned why the United States was still maintaining a force of 28,500 troops in the country seven decades after the Korean War, leaving the then-Seoul government uncertain about the US commitment to the alliance.
Despite Mr Trump’s suspension of the high-profile military exercises, the smaller joint exercises with the South Korean military continued during his tenure. In a joint statement on Saturday, Mr. Biden and Mr. Yoon agreed to “start discussions to expand the scope and scale” of the military exercises.
Mr Biden said the cooperation between the United States and South Korea “showed our willingness to tackle all threats together”. He also said his government would work together to counter cyberattacks from North Korea.
Mr Yoon, who came to office and promised a tougher approach to North Korea, expressed satisfaction with Mr Biden’s stance. “President Biden and I are face to face on so many fronts,” Yoon said.
The new South Korean president did not rule out talks with Mr Kim, and like his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, he offered the prospect of economic aid to the north. But Mr Yoon made it clear that the North would have to give up its nuclear weapons, which it clearly didn’t want to do. Indeed, in recent days, US intelligence agencies have warned that North Korea could test a missile or nuclear weapon during Mr Biden’s journey to reaffirm itself internationally.
“The door to dialogue remains open,” said Mr. yoon. “If North Korea really embarks on denuclearization in cooperation with the international community, I am ready to present a bold plan that will greatly strengthen its economy and improve the quality of life of its people.”
The meeting between Mr. Biden and Mr. Yoon also underlined the extent to which the Russian invasion of Ukraine now hovers above all of Mr. Biden’s diplomacy around the world.
“The war against Ukraine is not just a matter for Europe,” Biden said. “It is an attack on democracy and core international principles of sovereignty, and the Republic of Korea and the United States stand together as part of a global response with our allies and partners around the world.”
The two leaders also discussed further economic cooperation at a time when the United States is struggling to secure supply chains, and heralded Monday’s formal rollout of a regional economic framework designed to shape supply chain policies, digital trade , infrastructure, clean energy. and other areas.
After a state dinner in Seoul on Saturday night, Mr. Biden will fly to Japan on Sunday to meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He will also meet the leaders of India and Australia there.