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US open to 'practical' diplomacy with North Korea

May 1, 2021

The White House says Joe Biden is aiming for a realistic approach towards North Korea's denuclearization rather than his predecessor's "grand bargain" strategy.

US President Joe Biden at The White House.
Biden previously referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a "brutal dictator."Image: Brendan Smialowski/AFP

US President Joe Biden is seeking "a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy" with North Korea on denuclearization, the White House said on Friday.

The remarks came after the White House completed a review of US policy towards North Korea. Biden had promised in his election campaign to take a U-turn from his predecessors' policies. 

"Our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," Biden's press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters.

US drops ambitions for 'grand bargain'

It is unclear what kind of diplomatic course the US would take, but Psaki signaled that Biden had learned from previous administrations. 

Washington would not "focus on achieving a grand bargain," Psaki said, apparently referring to the kind of dramatic over-arching deal that former President Donald Trump suggested after meeting North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un.

But the White House would also avoid the more standoff approach called "strategic patience," adopted by Barack Obama, Psaki said.

What was the US policy towards North Korea before Biden?

Trump had downplayed Pyongyang's missile tests as he sought a nuclear deal to cement his foreign policy legacy.

Kim and Trump had two meetings but they failed to reach an agreement, despite Trump's attempts to "befriend" the dictator. 

The last face-to-face talks between senior officials from the two countries were held in Sweden in October 2019, when North Korean envoys walked away from the negotiations, citing frustration with US sanctions.

Why did Hanoi summit fail?

On the other hand, Obama espoused a dual-track approach, keeping engagement open for North Korea's good behavior while seeking to impose sanctions for its bad behavior.

Biden is expected to focus more on consulting with Japan and South Korea rather than develop a rapport with Kim. 

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, due to visit the White House in May, had urged Biden to engage directly with Kim on denuclearization.

fb/aw (AFP, AP, Reuters)