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Seoul presses Biden camp on Singapore agreement: report

(Reuters-Yonhap)
(Reuters-Yonhap)
A local news report said Tuesday that the South Korean government is pressing the incoming Joe Biden administration in the US to recognize the Singapore joint statement signed by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to pave the way for the possible resumption of the Washington-Pyongyang dialogue.

“A message has been delivered to the incoming Biden administration suggesting resuming talks with North Korea by returning to the Singapore spirit,” an unnamed ranking government official was quoted as saying by the JoongAng Ilbo, adding the messenger was a foreign affairs insider close to Biden’s camp.

The Singapore joint statement is the highest-level statement signed by Trump and Kim following their first historic summit in June 2018. In the statement, the US and North Korea pledged to work toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and creating a peace regime.

More detailed talks to follow up on those pledges, however, have been halted since the breakdown of the two leaders’ second meeting in Hanoi 2019, chilling inter-Korean relations over the past years as well.

Some experts have advised that the Singapore agreement could become the first step to recover the collapsed diplomacy between the US and North Korea. But it remains to be seen whether the new US president has any intention to uphold diplomatic commitments made by the outgoing president.

“The Biden team also knows that not everything went wrong during the Trump presidency. They admit that President Trump contributed to opening the door even slightly and there are things useful in some achievements made during his meetings with Kim,” Joseph Yun, former American special representative to North Korea, said last week in an interview with local daily The Hankyoreh.

He added that the Biden administration should come up with a new, more realistic diplomatic road map based on lessons learned during the Trump era, calling the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” an impossible goal.

Ahn Byong-jin, professor at the Global Academy for Future Civilizations of Kyung Hee University, was cautious about Biden succeeding Trump’s North Korean policy at least initially amid the mounting calls for his impeachment.

“On the North Korean issue, President Biden, a pragmatist, has no need to hurry, with more urgent domestic issues piling up for immediate resolution. His administration will approach the issue step by step. It will be a long-term project,” he told The Korea Herald, adding there should be no one-shot solution as hoped by some liberal politicians here.

With no specific plans revealed yet, the Biden camp has signaled room for talks with the North, stressing multilateral efforts with allies on the stalled denuclearization talks on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un also didn’t rule out diplomacy last week at the congress of his Workers’ Party even though he vowed to further advance the country’s nuclear capabilities calling the US his “biggest main enemy.”

In his New Year’s address Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in who is entering his final year in office in May, also pledged a “last-ditch” effort to pull off a “great transition” in mediating the inter-Korean and US-North talks.

“Dialogue and win-win cooperation are the key driving forces of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he said in a live broadcast from Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul. “Our will to meet (with North Korea) anytime, anywhere, even in a non-face-to-face way, remains unchanged.”

Multilateral under-the-surface negotiations are believed to be actively underway, but Cheong Wa Dae and other government offices have yet to release an official statement on the report.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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