“Since 1992, America’s policy toward North Korea has been mostly consistent: It would seek the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Simply put, that means the US won’t station nuclear-capable warplanes in South Korea and Seoul won’t seek the bomb, all so North Korea feels comfortable enough to verifiably dismantle its nuclear arsenal.
When Kim and former President Donald Trump met in Singapore in 2018, they signed a declaration in which North Korea promised to work toward such an outcome.
But three times now the Biden administration has offered a harder-line stance than that, potentially reversing even that limited progress.
In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the UN’s Conference on Disarmament that the US “remains focused on denuclearization of North Korea.” By phrasing it that way — the denuclearization of North Korea instead of the Korean Peninsula — he seemed to be suggesting that only North Korea needs to give up its nuclear weapons, while the US can still maintain its nuclear defense of South Korea.
And then on Sunday, a State Department press briefing about Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s trip to Japan this week noted they would “reinvigorate trilateral cooperation on a broad range of global issues, including the denuclearization of North Korea.”
Even though Biden’s team has said its North Korea policy remains under review for a few more weeks, those statements indicate the administration has made up its mind. The goal now, it seems, is to let Pyongyang know it alone must agree to a non-nuclear future. For now at least, it looks like the Biden administration is taking a harder line than the Trump team did.
That might please some US allies like Japan, which prefers a tougher stance against North Korea. But Seoul, which wants to keep diplomatic channels with Pyongyang open, certainly won’t like it, and neither will Kim.”