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Biden says meeting with Kim Jong Un is dependent on whether the North Korean leader is 'sincere' and 'serious'

Insider Asia logo Insider Asia 21/5/2022 insider@insider.com (John L. Dorman)
President Joe Biden, left, speaks as South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol listens during a news conference at the People's House on May 21, 2022. AP Photo/Evan Vucci © AP Photo/Evan Vucci President Joe Biden, left, speaks as South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol listens during a news conference at the People's House on May 21, 2022. AP Photo/Evan Vucci
  • President Biden said a meeting with Kim Jong Un would depend on the North Korean leader's seriousness.
  • His remarks came after bilateral talks in South Korea during his first presidential trip to Asia.
  • The administration is prepared for a potential ballistic missile or nuclear test from North Korea.

President Joe Biden on Saturday suggested that he would be open to meeting with Kim Jong Un, but only if the North Korean leader was "sincere" and "serious" in talks regarding the country's nuclear arsenal.

Biden made the comments during a press conference that followed a bilateral meeting with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol after he was asked about the circumstances that could lead to a conversation.

"With regard to whether I would meet with the leader of North Korea, that would depend on whether he was sincere and whether he was serious," the president said.

Biden's remarks came during his first presidential trip to Asia at a time when an increasingly large part of his young presidency has been focused on foreign affairs. International matters have played a significant role in his administration particularly following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, with the G7 continuing to commit billions of dollars in aid to the Ukrainian government.

While US presidents generally have not engaged with North Korean leaders in-person, former President Donald Trump met with Kim and sought to leverage the relationship to create a pathway to North Korea's denuclearization to no avail.

However, in September 2017, Trump called Kim "rocket man," which set off a stream of insults between the two men. The then-president reportedly said that his nickname for the North Korean leader was made in jest and was not meant to be demeaning.

The Biden administration has aimed to have talks with North Korea without preconditions, but Pyongyang has been resistant to the proposition.

North Korea's nuclear program continues to present huge geopolitical issues; the United Nations Security Council since 2006 has issued several major sanctions on the country for its missile activities.

The Biden administration is prepared for a potential ballistic missile or nuclear test from North Korea while the president is in the region, which national security advisor Jake Sullivan announced at the White House on Wednesday.

"Our intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test, including a long-range missile test, or a nuclear test, or frankly both, in the days leading into, on, or after the president's trip to the region," he said during a briefing.

North Korea last conducted a nuclear test in 2017, but the country this year test-fired a tactical guided weapon system. 

The president also seeks to strengthen its ties South Korea. In a statement, the two countries said they would begin talks "to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula."

"President Yoon and President Biden reiterate their common goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agree to further strengthen the airtight coordination to this end," the joint statement read. "The two Presidents share the view that the DPRK's [Democratic People's Republic of Korea's] nuclear program presents a grave threat not only to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula but also the rest of Asia and the world."

Biden will also visit Japan during his visit to the region.

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