President Joe Biden, in Seoul before heading to Japan on his first trip to Asia as president, had a simple message for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un: “Hello… period,” said he told reporters on the last day of his visit to South Korea on Sunday.
Biden said he was “not concerned” about new North Korean nuclear tests, which would be the first in nearly five years.
But his wry response when asked what message he had for Kim underscored the administration’s low-key approach to unresolved tensions with North Korea. It’s a stark contrast to former President Donald Trump’s threats, summits and “love letters” to Kim.
However, neither president’s approach has led to a major breakthrough and North Korea has resumed testing of its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), while intelligence reports suggest it is preparing for another nuclear test.
“We’re ready for anything North Korea does,” Biden said.
A day earlier, Biden and his new South Korean counterpart, President Yoon Suk-yeol, agreed to consider larger military exercises and potentially deploy more US nuclear-capable weapons to the region in response to testing. arms of the North.
North Korea has not responded to US overtures, including offers of Covid-19 vaccines, Biden said on Saturday, noting he was ready to sit down with Kim if he thought it would lead to a breakthrough. serious.
Covid-19 restrictions could play a role in North Korea’s lack of response, a senior US administration official has said.
North Korea has said the US overtures are insincere because Washington maintains “hostile policies” such as military exercises and sanctions.
When asked if Biden was willing to take concrete steps to break the impasse, the official said the administration was looking for serious engagement, not grand gestures.
“It’s a decision only the DPRK can make,” the official said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.
At a US airbase south of Seoul, Biden and Yoon toured an air operations center. US and South Korean troops, behind large computer projectors showing maps of the border separating North and South Korea, are tasked with defending against any missile the North might launch.
Yoon said these facilities are important given the “growing” threats from North Korea.
Biden then ate ice cream and greeted American troops and their families at a bowling alley on the base, before departing for Japan.
During the trip, Biden focused on rallying ‘like-minded’ democracies to cooperate more, as part of broader efforts to counter China’s growing influence and put pressure on the Russia about its war in Ukraine.
On the second leg of the trip, Biden will meet with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia, a group known as the Quad, another cornerstone of his strategy to fend off China’s growing influence. .
Yoon expressed interest in working more closely with the Quad, but the US official said there were no plans to add Seoul to the group.
“It’s natural…to think about how you can work with other like-minded democracies, but I think it’s also important to recognize that the current focus is on developing and building on what has already been put in place,” the official said.
Tokyo will also see the launch of Biden’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) on Monday, a program intended to bind countries in the region more closely through common standards in areas such as supply chain resilience. supply, clean energy, infrastructure and digital. Trade.
The US official declined to identify which countries could join IPEF, but said they were pleased with the “very strong interest” across the region to participate.
Biden also met with the president of Hyundai Motor Group, who announced on Sunday that he would invest $5 billion in the United States through 2025 to strengthen his collaboration with American companies in various technologies, such as robotics, mobility urban aerial, autonomous driving and artificial intelligence. .