Republic of Korea’s (RoK) President, Moon Jae-in’s visit to Washington to meet his counterpart, United States (US) President Joe Biden, on May 21, 2021,may be interpreted as a stimulating moment in reactivating the dialogue on the Korean Peninsula under the circumstances of the new Biden administration strategy on the matter. Similarly, it showcased the new US strategy on the Korean Peninsula as the result of close consultations with RoK (“shared approach to the Democratic People’s Republic in Korea”, also “My team consulted closely with President Moon’s team throughout the process“, as US President put it), thus, one may argue, represents a common project. In fact, President Moon confirmed the “two countries closely coordinated with each other in lockstep.” Following a joint news conference, the visit set – inter alia – to re-establish a dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Most importantly, the two presidents shared their willingness to engage with DPRK and “to take pragmatic steps to reduce tensions”. Significantly, the US President placed the endeavour in the greater ambit of “our collective security in the Indo-Pacific region”, reiterating the importance of the Korean Peninsula to “increase security in the United States — for the United States and our allies.”
The current signal of reinforced engagement of the US in the Korean Peninsula comes after various interruptions and recovery attempts have resulted in a stalemate in the bilateral dialogue between the former US President and DPRK’s Leader. Former US President Donald Trump has met DPRK’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un thrice during his mandate, while exchanging “love letters” and initiating a series of dialogues directed at the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
As an enhanced signal of the US willingness for a diplomatic approach of the Korean matter and a first pragmatic step in this direction, US top ranking diplomat, Sung Kim has been appointed as US Special Envoy for DPRK to help “reduce tensions as we move toward our ultimate goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. Sung, praised by Biden for his “deep policy expertise”, is a Korean-American diplomat who also acted as US Special Envoy for DPRK during the Obama administration and is credited with having contributed and organised the previous Trump-Kim summits. In this regard, the diplomat’s appointment could be seen as a signal of continuity in approaching the Korean matter.
While President Moon welcomed US’ “calibrated and practical approach to seeking diplomacy with North Korea”, he appreciated Sung Kim’s appointment as an expression of the “firm commitment of the US for exploring diplomacy and its readiness for dialogue with North Korea”, setting “high expectations”. In fact, the same signal of continuity was reverberated by the RoK President, who welcomed the new approach, “building on past agreements, including the Singapore joint statement”.
Furthermore, as President Moon’s remarks seem to suggest, a peaceful Korean Peninsula could only be the result of a tripartite dialogue, i.e. “commitments made between the two Koreas and between the U.S. and North Korea are essential for making a peaceful Korean Peninsula.”
Naturally, as one of the most significant actors in the Korean matter, DPRK’s engagement and positive diplomatic response as a sovereign actor is crucial in assuring peace and security in the Korean Peninsula.As yet, DPRK has rejected unilateral disarmament with the exception of general statements of support for the concept of universal denuclearization. While the Biden-Moon summit might be under scrutiny and careful consideration in the DPRK, no statement has been identified so far with regard to the US-RoK bilateral meeting.
As the US administration admitted, the lofty goal of denuclearization remains “an incredibly difficult objective”, and, according to President Moon, the “most urgent common task that our two countries must undertake”. Naturally, such an objective could only be achieved by carefully considered diplomatic action, that would involve multiple steps and strong willingness for dialogue. Such a willingness for dialogue, as recently displayed by US and RoK, represents only a first stage. A good inter-Korean dialogue (“we will work to facilitate progress in inter-Korean relations so as to achieve a virtuous cycle with U.S.-DPRK dialogue”) is similarly a sine qua non prerequisite for furthering the negotiation process. Equally important are a “virtuous cycle with US-DPRK dialogue” and a “strong security”. Only then, it so appears, the possibility of another US-DPRK Summit would arise, according to the US President (“If he [DPRK Supreme Leader, A/N] made any commitment, then I would meet with him.”).
Certainly, in the light of the remarks of the two leaders during the May 21, 2021 press conference one may affirm that, despite complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula not being just around the corner, the Biden-Moon summit represents a diplomatic win, especially for RoK, by showcasing a set of important features on the Korean peace process as the result of a common US-RoK decision making process. In the light of the summit’s statements, the natural next step would be the diplomatic engagement of DPRK. Axiomatically, a peaceful Korean Peninsula can only be assured by the sovereign will of its two states based on multiple dialogue.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position or view of IRSEA.