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South Korea sees Biden in office as 'turning point' for North peace talks

South Korea sees Biden in office as 'turning point' for North peace talks

A South Korean official told Newsweek that the former US ally viewed President-elect Joe Biden taking office as a pivotal moment for the historic peace talks started by outgoing President Donald Trump, but then stalled.

South Korea, officially known as the Republic of Korea (ROK), and North Korea, formally called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) remain divided despite intense diplomatic contacts over the past three years. As nascent relations once again gave way to tensions on the Korean peninsula, Seoul is seeking a renewed effort to unite the two neighboring rivals.

"The launch of the Biden administration would provide a turning point to restart the US-DPRK and inter-Korean talks," a South Korean Unification Ministry official told Newsweek.

The official hoped that the new White House would make working with Pyongyang a priority, and that both sides would abandon hard-line positions for the sake of cooperation.

"The ROK government hopes that the new US administration and the North Korean authorities will move forward in building relationships through dialogue and negotiations in a more flexible manner," the official said. "Seoul will also do its best to create a virtuous circle with substantial progress between inter-Korean relations and between the United States and the DPRK."

Biden has yet to release a detailed strategy for approaching North Korea with nuclear weapons, but he has promised to work with allies and competitors such as China in pursuing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

"In North Korea, President Biden will empower our negotiators and launch a sustained and coordinated campaign with our allies and others, including China, to advance our shared goal of a denuclearized North Korea," says his official policy statement. Exterior.

Biden has also voiced criticism of Trump's maverick approach to the negotiations, accusing his rival of legitimizing Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un by becoming the first sitting US president to meet with him in June 2018. Trump will meet with Kim again. in February 2019 but the follow-up to the summit ended without an agreement. A third meeting that summer also ended empty-handed despite dramatic scenes of Trump entering North Korean territory, also unexplored for a current American leader.

Labor-level relations fell apart later that year, and inter-Korean ties also collapsed last year, apparently due to South Korean activists blowing up balloons carrying anti-government material and smuggling across the border. Officials and state media introduced tough talks that culminated in threats of a complete rethinking of the rapprochement with Seoul, as mentioned in Kim's remarks last week before the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea.

The ruler warned that "prospects for improving relations between North and South Korea are uncertain" and warned that warmer ties have returned to the period before his three historic meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018. Kim accused Seoul of failing to live up to their joint agreements that year, but rather prioritizing the long-standing alliance with the United States and engaging in "provocations," warning that such behavior could force Pyongyang "to treat the South differently. ".

In the end, however, the third-generation supreme leader pointed out that this trend could be reversed "at any moment" if South Korea changes course. The South Korean Unification Ministry official saw this point as a potential opportunity.

"Obviously, North Korea seems to have left many possibilities open without determining the direction of its policy," the official told Newsweek. "Looking at developments in the future, it seems to leave room for decisions to be made between hard-line and moderate strategies. While apparently taking a tough stance, the North has also expressed room for improvement, including calls for an attitude change first from the South ".

Kim was less ambiguous in his call for new, more advanced nuclear capabilities, including the development of super large and tactical weapons. He called for preventive and retaliatory capabilities, seeking solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and an extension of the effective attack range of his forces to 15,000 kilometers, or approximately 9,320 miles.

The estimated capabilities of North Korea's ICBM tested during a surge in tensions between the United States and North Korea in 2017 are believed to exceed 13,000 kilometers, or more than 8,000 miles, putting Washington, DC within the scope. An even larger weapon was displayed during a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea last October.

Kim held another military parade last week to mark the end of the 8th Party Congress. The grand event showcased a number of his country's existing military might, including some new additions such as the debut of a submarine-launched ballistic missile called the Pukguksong-5 and a short-range ballistic missile based on a solid propellant, but no ballistic missiles. intercontinental.

While Kim has yet to launch an ICBM or conduct a nuclear test since a self-imposed moratorium was announced at the start of the 2018 peace process, he reversed his promise not to do so during his 2020 New Year's message. New Years, delivered in text, was much more focused on reworking his country's beleaguered economy, strangled by both international sanctions and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic-induced national lockdown, which North Korean authorities insist still It has not infiltrated the elusive and militarized. state borders.

Even with North Korea retreating into isolation, South Korea has emphasized its willingness to restart talks at any time.

"The government of the Republic of Korea remains steadfast in its pursuit of denuclearization and peacemaking on the Korean peninsula, and the improvement of inter-Korean relations," the Korean Unification Ministry official told Newsweek. South. "Their willingness to implement the inter-Korean agreements is as strong as it has been stated many times before, and we hope to create a new starting point for peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula in the near future based on mutual trust and respect. ". "

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