Joe Biden is prepared to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if Democratic candidate triumphs in the November US presidential elections, Yonhap News Agency reports.
According to Brian McKeon, who has been closely working with Joe Biden since 1985, although necessary groundwork would be required first, a meeting would go ahead if it was seen as facilitating the denuclearisation of the communist nation.
"Any meeting would have to be preceded by some serious diplomatic work at a lower level, rather than just granting a meeting between the two leaders, because, as you know, any complicated negotiation on a challenge like the North Korean nuclear issue, you just can't expect two top leaders to do that in a one- or two-hour meeting," said the adviser.
McKeon, who is currently on leave as Senior Director at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement, underscored that the former vice president’s approach toward North Korea would be different from that of President Donald Trump.
"I certainly think it would be different than the Trump administration's. Joe Biden understands that the North Korea issue is pretty complicated, and you can't just solve it with a couple of leader-to-leader summits," McKeon was cited as saying in an exclusive interview for the South Korean agency.
Approach to the North Korean issue would hinge on a future assessment of the current situation, and would also likely differ from that of the Barack Obama administration where Biden served as vice president, underscored McKeon.
"Joe Biden is not President Obama, and the world is different now four years later because the North Korean nuclear program has moved on, and we will have to assess the situation that he inherits and then develop the strategy, and we know we can't go back to January 2017," he said.
‘Principled Strategy’ Touted
According to the adviser, a meeting between Joe Biden and Kim Jong-un would only be feasible if there were credible signs of possible progress.
"I think he would be willing to meet with (Kim) if it was part of an actual strategy that moves us forward on the denuclearisation objective," said the adviser on 8 October.
McKeon slammed Donald Trump for having launched into a “leader meeting” without first mapping out a strategy “to get to our objectives".
President Trump has often underscored his “great relationship” with the North Korean leader, while touting the economic benefits of denuclearisation for the communist nation.
McKeon, who served as the former vice president’s foreign policy adviser from 1988 to 1995, while he was a US senator, said that a “principled approach to the North Korea challenge” would be taken by an administration led by Joe Biden, adding:
“We would …work in a close coordinated campaign with our treaty allies in Japan and Korea, as well as working with the People's Republic of China toward what we think is a common goal that everyone shares -- denuclearised North Korea and ensuring peace and prosperity in the region."
Joe Biden went on record accusing Donald Trump of “cozying up to dictators” and making concessions without receiving much in return in his 2020 Democratic National Convention (DNC) speech, while not mentioning North Korea or Kim Jong Un by name.
McKeon made reference to one such instance of perceived concessions when Trump scaled down joint military exercises with South Korea.
"That was a concession that President Trump made without getting anything significant or tangible in return. And having been a senior official of the Defense Department under President Obama, I know these exercises are very important to the joint readiness of the United States and Korean forces."
The United States and South Korea announced in 2019 that they would no longer carry out their large-scale springtime military exercises in an effort to improve diplomatic ties with North Korea. The move came on the heels of Donald Trump's summit with Kim Jong Un. The drills, known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, were abandoned in favour of smaller training programmes.
As for the humanitarian aspect of the situation, Biden, according to the adviser, supports resuming assistance to the North Korean people, as well as a resumption of the reunion process of Korean families, separated by the division of the two Koreas.
"In terms of exchanges and family reunions, we would obviously work with the Korean government on that and advancing that goal, including taking actions to encourage family reunions," McKeon was cited as saying.
The adviser conceded that the existing deadlock in nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea, and international sanctions on Pyongyang complicate humanitarian assistance.
"We would certainly want to look at working within the existing sanctions framework to make sure that humanitarian assistance can get through into North Korea,” said McKeon.
Yet again, an assessment of the current situation would be required before the issue of removing sanctions were broached, added McKeon.
"Sanctions are certainly part of the toolkit to pressure the North Korean regime to negotiate seriously about denuclearization. Sanctions are not an end in themselves," he said.
The adviser to the Democratic presidential candidate also reassured South Korea and other allies that a Biden administration would seek to reaffirm US commitment to its alliances.
Stalled US-North Korea Dialogue
US President Donald Trump has held three bilateral meetings, including two summits, with the North Korean leader.
Trump and Kim Jong-un met for the first time in 2018 in Singapore, when the two leaders signed an agreement in line with which Pyongyang would abandon its nuclear weapons.
The second summit in early 2019 in Vietnam ended abruptly.
At the time, Trump said that the deal had broken down because the North Korean leader wanted complete sanctions relief for dismantling the main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, but the US wanted other nuclear facilities disabled as well.
“ Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” said Trump.
The US President and the DPRK leader subsequently met in June 2019 in the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. Although they agreed to resume negotiations, in October talks between the two sides reached an impasse, with Washington refusing to lift sanctions against the country and cut down its military presence in South Korea unless Pyongyang denuclearises.