President Biden said Saturday that any meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would “depend on whether he was sincere and whether he was serious,” a departure from former President Trump’s aggressive pursuit of the rogue autocrat.
Biden’s skeptical comments came during a joint news conference with new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, in which the two leaders expressed growing concerns over North Korea’s provocations.
Biden’s remarks suggest he would meet with Kim only after significant negotiations were underway at lower levels. Trump’s three meetings with Kim took place without enforceable conditions set on the North Korean leader.
North Korea tested three short-range missiles last week and American intelligence officials said in recent days that they were worried about potential tests of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles during Biden’s visit to the region or soon after he departs.
Biden arrived in South Korea on Friday and attended a state dinner Saturday night. He will travel to Tokyo on Sunday before returning to Washington on Tuesday. It is his first trip to Asia as president.
Biden promised closer economic ties with South Korea and further cooperation on the environment and strategic issues, and both agreed to cooperate closely on isolating Russia and improving supply chain issues.
The two leaders also said they would pursue plans to step up joint military exercises on the Korean peninsula. The exercises were scaled back under Trump as he tried to broker a deal with North Korea to end its nuclear program.
Trump’s diplomacy failed to produce lasting results. The military exercises have long infuriated North Korean leaders and their expansion would likely be seen by Kim as a provocation.
“Strong deterrence against North Korea is paramount,” Yoon said while standing beside Biden at the People’s House, the seat of government.
Yoon is expected to take a harder line on North Korea than his predecessor, Moon Jae-in. However, Yoon said that “the door to dialogue remains open” and that “if North Korea genuinely embarks upon denuclearization” it could get help from the West in improving life for its impoverished people.
He and Biden also said they wanted to help North Korea with its growing outbreak of COVID-19, which some analysts believe is driving the country’s recent provocation.
Biden, however, said that Kim has not responded to American offers.
“We’ve offered vaccines not only to North Korea but to China as well, and we’re prepared to do that immediately,” he said. “We’ve gotten no response.”
Biden, asked at an event Sunday whether he was concerned about a potential nuclear test, said, “We are prepared for anything North Korea does.”
He was more cryptic when asked whether he had a message for Kim.
“Hello,” Biden said. Then he paused and followed up with: “Period.”