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Seoul, Washington hope to schedule summit talks sooner

President Moon Jae-in (Cheong Wa Dae)
President Moon Jae-in (Cheong Wa Dae)

The first face-to-face meeting between President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden may come sooner than expected, with the two governments seeking to advance the date as early as April, according to diplomatic sources Monday.

Considering Biden’s packed diplomatic schedule this month, including a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on April 16 and the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate he will preside over on April 22-23, a summit with Moon could come later in the month or slide to early May.

“With the Biden administration finalizing its policy review on North Korea, the two governments have continued talks to advance the date,” a diplomatic source said on condition of anonymity. “If the schedule is confirmed, President Moon will travel to Washington for the summit.”

Since Moon and Biden agreed to meet in person as soon as possible during their first phone call in February, Seoul and Washington have continued discussions for the summit but COVID-19 has remained a key factor.

The upcoming G-7 summit that will be held in the UK on June 11-13 was considered a most likely occasion for the leaders to meet, but the multilateral gathering would be too crowded and too late to discuss specific issues like North Korea.

As Washington’s ongoing policy review on North Korea is speeding up, the timing of the summit seems to have been advanced amid Moon’s push to revive his mediating role between the US and North Korea as well as Biden’s budding efforts to bolster ties with its key allies in Asia as ways to counter a more assertive China.

During the meeting of the top security advisers of South Korea, the US and Japan over the weekend, the Moon-Biden summit talks was one of the top agenda, Cheong Wa Dae sources said.

“Nothing has been confirmed yet,” a ranking official said, citing the tricky scheduling issues concerning a summit meeting. “US officials also seem to be taking great care of quarantine measures.”

While Biden was the first G-7 leader to get vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine, Moon received his first shot on March 23 and is expected to have a second within days.

Along with COVID-19, another key factor is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s possible visit to Seoul. Xi had planned to visit South Korea last year but the plans had been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong who held his first meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Saturday, the two governments have agreed to resume talks to reschedule the visit.

Seoul officials are expected to double efforts to fine tune the summit schedules considering the timing and order of Moon’s summit talks with the leaders of the US and China could stir unnecessary speculation amid growing tensions between the two superpowers.

By Lee Ji-yoon (