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Moon to seek new teamwork with Biden over N. Korea, 'top-down' diplomacy in doubt

Joe Biden speaks during the final presidential debate at Belmont University, in Nashville, Tennessee, on Oct. 22. (Reuters-Yonhap)
Joe Biden speaks during the final presidential debate at Belmont University, in Nashville, Tennessee, on Oct. 22. (Reuters-Yonhap)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in faces a daunting task of moving practically in lockstep with Joe Biden, who won the US presidential election, in the Korea peace process.

Washington is expected to reset its strategy on Pyongyang under Biden's presidency scheduled to start early next year.

Moon and Biden agree on the ultimate goal of denuclearizing Korea and bringing lasting peace to the region. Biden said he wants the two Koreas to be reunited.

At issue is how.

While Moon has favored the so-called top-down approach, aimed at pulling off bold and speedy deals via summit talks, Biden has taken a negative view of it.

On his campaign trail, Biden made clear that he is not interested in any personal diplomacy with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.   

Biden, when elected, is likely to pursue a more systemic and principled approach, probably similar to "strategic patience" under former US President Barack Obama.

"With Biden's win, a big change is expected in the US policy on North Korea (from that of Donald Trump)," said Cheong Seong-chang, a fellow at the Wilson Center based in Washington, DC.

Unlike President Donald Trump, he will likely engage in direct talks with Kim only after reaching a working-level compromise on specific denuclearization steps and rewards, Cheong added.

It raises concerns about a possible mismatch between South Korea and the US over ways to deal with North Korea.

Moon will likely try to convince Biden of the need to continue summit-driven efforts, seeking to play a mediator or facilitator role again.

Moon's aides said they have relevant ideas and proposals for Biden at the ready.

"Regardless of the US leadership, the basic goal is the same, and there's differentiation only in terms of an approach," Suh Hoon, director of Cheong Wa Dae's national security office, told lawmakers during a parliamentary session on the US election day.

He said Moon's security team has done its best to draw up North Korea policy suggestions to coordinate with the incoming US government. He gave no details.

Suh stressed that there should be no further delay in the push for reactivating the stalled peace process, a top policy agenda for the left-leaning Moon administration.

Moon's presidency is especially running out of time. He now has around 1 1/2 years left in office.

Moon pins hopes on a possible breakthrough from the Tokyo Summer Olympics, slated for 2021, reminiscent of a detente created on the occasion of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

A best-case scenario for Moon is that Kim makes a reciprocal trip to South Korea and joins the declaration of a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

The ambitious scheme requires cooperation and support from not just Kim but also Biden.

Moon is expected to seek to hold his first face-to-face summit with Biden at the earliest possible date, which would serve as a litmus test on their chemistry. (Yonhap)