The Biden administration is eager to meet with North Korean officials “anywhere, anytime without preconditions,” a top U.S. diplomat said on a visit to South Korea Monday, days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signaled that his regime is preparing for dialogue or confrontation — but more for confrontation — with Washington.
Ambassador Sung Kim, whom President Biden tapped last month to serve as U.S. special envoy for North Korea, made the comments during a meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Seoul, asserting that administration officials “hope [North Korea] will respond positively to our outreach.”
At the same time, Ambassador Kim said the administration remains committed to keeping sanctions in place against the North Korean regime.
“We will also urge all U.N. member states, especially U.N. Security Council members, to do the same, to address the threat posed to the international community by the DPRK,” he said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Ambassador Kim’s visit to Seoul this week underscores the Biden administration’s desire to rejuvenate dialogue with North Korea after more than two years of stalled denuclearization talks. The trip comes less than a month after a visit to the White House by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a strong advocate of talks with the North Koreans.
Ambassador Kim, a career U.S. diplomat, played a key, but largely behind-the-scenes, role in facilitating dialogue with the North Koreans during the Trump era. While serving as U.S. ambassador to Singapore in 2018, he helped lay the groundwork for the 2018 Singapore summit between Mr. Kim and President Donald Trump.
Diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang briefly reached historic levels during the Trump administration, with Mr. Trump meeting three separate times with Mr. Kim. However, the meetings fell short of producing any major agreement for the North Korean regime to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.
The North’s weapons program has been built up clandestinely for decades in violation of repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Tensions with the Kim regime have simmered during the past two years.
North Korean state media reported last week that Mr. Kim has ordered his government to be prepared for dialogue and confrontation with the Biden administration — but more for confrontation, according to The Associated Press.
Some experts believe the North Korean statement indicates that Mr. Kim will likely push to strengthen his nuclear arsenal and increase pressure on Washington to give up what North Korea considers a hostile policy toward Pyongyang, though he also will prepare for the prospect of a resumption in talks.
During a meeting of Mr. Kim ruling party last Thursday, the North Korean leader analyzed in detail the policy tendencies of the U.S. under President Biden and clarified steps to be taken in relations with Washington, the Korean Central News Agency said.
The news agency did not specify the steps, but said Mr. Kim “stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation in order to protect the dignity of our state” and ensure national security.
Analysts rate it unlikely that Mr. Biden will pursue the kinds of high-stakes direct meetings with Mr. Kim that Mr. Trump favored. The administration instead has made moves signaling a return to something akin to the policy of “strategic patience” embraced during the final years of the George W. Bush administration and throughout the Obama era, when Mr. Biden was vice president.
The approach revolves around efforts to continue isolating Pyongyang through U.S. and United Nations sanctions while pursuing so-called “working-level” dialogue with the Kim regime that avoids rewarding the regime with any major diplomatic overtures.