(Update: adds Biden, Yoon post-summit press conference, re-ledes, updates headline)
By Andrés Sánchez Braun
Seoul, May 21 (EFE).- US president Joe Biden on Saturday pledged to strengthen Washington and Seoul’s deterrence capabilities on the Korean peninsula and said a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was possible if the latter is “sincere” about resuming dialogue on nuclear disarmament.
At a press conference following a meeting at the new presidential office in Seoul, Biden and his newly-elected South Korean counterpart, Yoon Suk-yeol, said they had committed to “further strengthen deterrence by reinforcing combined defense posture” on the peninsula.
North Korea approved a weapons modernization program last year, and has already carried out a record number of missile tests in 2022.
Biden said he discussed a number of regional security issues with Yoon, “including addressing the threats posed by the DPRK by further strengthening our deterrent posture and working toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The joint statement issued at the conclusion of the meeting said the two leaders “reaffirm the commitment of the US to deploy strategic US military assets in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary” as well as to “enhance such measures and identify new or additional steps to reinforce deterrence in the face of DPRK destabilizing activities.”
During the recent election campaign for the South Korean presidential election, Yoon even spoke of redeploying US nuclear weapons in the South, although he later backtracked and mentioned the need to increase the Pentagon’s strategic assets (from bombers to submarines) to confront North Korea which since 2019 has made significant additions to its arsenal.
Asked whether he would be willing to hold a summit with Kim Jong-un, like his predecessor Donald Trump did, Biden said any potential meeting with the North Korean leader would depend on whether he is “sincere” and “serious” about reopening the dialogue on denuclearization, which has been stalled since 2019.
Pyongyang has shown no interest in resuming disarmament talks over the past two years despite repeated US offers to return to the table without preconditions.
The US president confirmed that Washington had “offered vaccines” to North Korea, which since has been dealing with a huge wave of coronavirus infections, and to China, whose two largest cities, Beijing and Shanghai, have been on lockdown for weeks due to Covid outbreaks. “We’re prepared to do that immediately. We’ve got no response in that regard,” Biden said.
Biden will travel on Sunday to Tokyo, where he will meet with prime minister Fumio Kishida, and there will be a Quad summit with Australia, India, Japan, and the United States on Tuesday.
China has been wary of Biden’s trip, during which he is scheduled to formalize the creation of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), an initiative that South Korea has enthusiastically joined and that aims to strengthen trade ties between the US and Asia.
Many experts see it as a cooperation network that seeks to sideline Beijing in supply chains, and have criticized the fact that IPEF does not seem to offer real incentives to access the US market and maintains the protectionist line advocated by Trump.
Ahead of his meeting with Yoon, Biden visited Seoul’s National Cemetery, where he paid tribute to soldiers who died in the Korean War (1950-1953). Biden placed a floral tribute in front of the monument of the fallen and observed a minute of silence in the honor of those who lost their lives in a conflict in which the US fought alongside South Korea against the North, which was backed by China.
No peace treaty has been signed since the conflict, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war with each other.
Biden’s Asia visit is the first since he came to power and has triggered concerns that North Korea might test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile or even carry out a nuclear test during the US president’s trip to the region. EFE