President Joe Biden recently expressed his openness to meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if the leader was sincere in his intentions.
At the same time, South Korea and the U.S. has signaled plans for a strong deterrence against Pyongyang’s increasingly accelerated weapons program.
After a meeting, Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol made a joint statement saying the two nations would begin discussions to expand joint military exercises.
North Korea has stepped up missile launches while satellite images show that the country may be preparing for a seventh nuclear test after a five-year break.
In a press conference, Biden said the U.S. and allies would address the ongoing threat from North Korea “by further strengthening our deterrence posture and working toward a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The South Korean leader and President Biden held talks just 11 days after Yoon took office. The discussions came as North Korea faces a massive, growing Covid-19 outbreak. The country’s citizens are unvaccinated.
The president said he is willing to provide vaccines to North Korea. However, the communist nation hasn’t responded to the offer.
Biden said the U.S. could provide vaccines immediately. A White House official later clarified that the United States would give the vaccines through already-existing mechanisms like Covax.
Covax is a program financed by governments of western nations to help lower-income countries to access vaccines.
According to the Biden administration, North Korea is aware of the offer. The U.S. has also offered to give the vaccines to China, which could then be transferred to North Korea.
Covid cases soar
According to recent reports, North Korea has been averaging around 220,000 new cases of the coronavirus daily.
A total of 2.46 million people — approximately 10% of the population — have been infected in just a week.
When asked recently whether he would have any preconditions for meeting with the North Korean leader, Biden told reporters, “That would depend on whether he was sincere and whether he was serious.”
Previously, administration officials played down the likelihood of a meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Biden since North Korea has stepped up its missile testing. Kim met three times with former President Donald Trump.
North Korea has conducted more than a dozen missile tests in the past year. These launches include a submarine-launched ballistic missile and a full-range intercontinental ballistic missile launch in recent months. North Korea also launched three ballistic missiles on May 12.
Officials in the U.S. have warned that North Korea could conduct another long-range or nuclear missile test soon.
According to Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan, either test would prompt the nation to accelerate efforts to defend its allies and “cause adjustments to the way that our military is postured in the region.”
The U.S. is planning to use Biden’s visit to Japan to launch an economic pact called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, allowing America to work more closely with critical Asian economies on issues including digital trade, anticorruption, clean energy, and supply chains.
An overarching goal of the trip is to solidify crucial U.S. alliances in the region to counter the influence of China.