- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Trump administration’s top North Korea envoy expressed regret Thursday that Pyongyang “squandered” the opportunity to reach a historic denuclearization deal with President Trump.

Speaking during a farewell visit to South Korea, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun said he would urge the incoming Biden administration to continue pushing for diplomacy with the North Koreans, but suggested the new administration may be less eager for a breakthrough.

“Among the points I will convey to the new team is this: The war is over; the time for conflict has ended, and the time for peace has arrived,” Mr. Biegun said, adding that the U.S., South and North Korea must work together “if we are to succeed.”

Mr. Trump held three precedent-shattering face-to-face meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, even briefly stepping on to North Korean soil, but a deal to end the North’s nuclear programs never materialized.

Presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden has yet to name his North Korea negotiating team, and retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, Mr. Biden’s Pentagon pick, has little experience with the Asian theater.

Based on his history and his campaign rhetoric, Mr. Biden is unlikely to pursue the kind of high-stakes direct meetings with North Korea’s leader that were the hallmark of the Trump era.

Mr. Biden is instead expected to return to the Obama-era policy of “strategic patience,” isolating Pyongyang through sanctions and avoid rewarding the Kim regime with diplomatic overtures. Some fear Mr. Kim is likely to test the new administration early in Mr. Biden’s term, perhaps with a fresh nuclear or long-range ballistic missile test.

Pyongyang has refrained from such tests for more than two years, which Mr. Trump cites as a key product of his unconventional diplomacy. The Kim regime has, however, carried out waves of short-range ballistic missile tests since the very public failure of the U.S.-North Korean summit in Hanoi in February 2019.

Mr. Trump has said he walked away from Hanoi because the North Koreans demanded sweeping sanctions relief in exchange for only a limited commitment to destroy part of their nuclear arsenal.

Working-level talks have been stalled since then, and Mr. Biegun said Thursday that the North has not responded to repeated overtures from the U.S. to at least work toward reaching a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, which has been frozen for decades by a shaky armistice.

“Over the past two-and-a-half years, we have made clear to North Korea that the United States is ready to move past a 70-year-old conflict to forge together a new relationship,” Mr. Biegun said. “Regrettably, much opportunity has been squandered by our North Korean counterparts over the past two years, who too often have devoted themselves to the search for obstacles to negotiations instead of seizing opportunities for engagement.”

“These moments,” he added, “can be fleeting, especially in democracies, which see elections and changes in government that make bold actions even more urgent.” Still, he said, “I believe no less today than the day I first took on this responsibility that the vision President Trump and Chairman Kim have shared for the peninsula is possible, and that we are not done.”

The stalemate in the talks has also proven politically difficult for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, long a proponent of increased contacts and diplomacy on the divided Korean peninsula.

The loss of the personal relationship with Mr. Trump will also impact the Kim regime, which still has not reported in the tightly controlled state press the results of the U.S. election or congratulated Mr. Biden on his victory. The North’s press made global headlines last year by referring to the former U.S. vice president as a “rabid dog” who should be “beaten to death with a stick” after he referred to Mr. Kim as a tyrant.

In a notable twist, Mr. Trump weighed in on the exchange of insults by tweeting a message to Mr. Kim in November 2019 that said: “Mr. Chairman, Joe Biden may be Sleepy and Very Slow, but he is not a ‘rabid dog.’”

“He is actually somewhat better than that, but I am the only one who can get you where you have to be,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “You should act quickly, get the deal done. See you soon!”

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