U.S. President Joe Biden has made it official. At a press briefing on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “Our president’s view is, of course — that is without question — that North Korea’s nuclear ballistic missile and other proliferation-related activities constitute a serious threat to the international peace and security of the world.” She added that the Biden administration will adopt “a new strategy” toward North Korea “in close consultation with South Korea, Japan and other allies.” Her statement is a declaration of a multilateral approach to the North Korean issue instead of the “top-down” approach of Donald Trump.
The comment the spokesperson made just two days after the launch of the new U.S. administration reflects America’s concerns that North Korea has up to 80 nuclear weapons despite Trump’s three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Moreover, the security and foreign affairs team in the Biden administration is being filled with veteran diplomats with deep distrust of North Korea, including Wendy Sherman, the deputy state secretary nominee and former senior official in the Obama administration.
In a New Year’s address, however, President Moon Jae-in accentuated Kim’s “unflinching will” to denuclearize. Moon even mentioned the need to consult with North Korea — not the United States — over the joint military drill in March. In a speech at the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party on Jan. 12, the North Korean leader mentioned “nuclear power” 36 times followed by the appearance of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile in the parade in Pyongyang. In a long editorial Friday, the Washington Post also raised the possibility of North Korea conducting another missile launch in the coming weeks.
Moon is eager to achieve tangible results in inter-Korean relations before he steps down in May 2022. But impatience will only spike worries from the Biden administration. Washington believes such a rush will only hamper the denuclearization process and widen the schisms in the alliance. It’s better for Seoul to help Washington draw up a joint roadmap to denuclearizing North Korea before it is too late.
During the Obama administration in which Biden served as vice president, Obama and his Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye issued a joint statement in 2015 confirming North Korean nuclear weapons as a “serious threat.” Biden took a rare step of inviting Park to his residence for a luncheon to discuss the joint statement. When Moon makes a phone call to Biden, he must share the nuclear threat with Biden and make it official. Only then can Moon recover Washington’s trust.