Blinken indicates changing course in North Korea policy     DATE: 2024-07-22 06:01:43

Defense cost-deal between Seoul, Washington likely to be made soon

By Kang Seung-woo

U.S. State Secretary nominee Antony Blinken hinted Tuesday (local time) that the Joe Biden administration may entirely rethink its policies toward North Korea, claiming that under Donald trump the situation with Pyongyang has deteriorated considerably.

State Secretary nominee Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Tuesday. / Reuters-Yonhap
State Secretary nominee Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Tuesday. / Reuters-Yonhap
Blinken did not specify what policies the United States will adopt in dealing with the totalitarian state during his confirmation hearing, however, as Biden and members of his foreign policy team have been critical of Trump's handling of the Kim Jong-un regime, his comments are seen as heralding a big shift from their predecessor's dealings with the North.

"I think we have to review and we intend to review the entire approach and policy toward North Korea because this is a hard problem that has plagued administration after administration, and it's a problem that has not gotten better," Blinken said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"In fact, it's gotten worse."

Kim Yeoul-soo, chief of the Security Strategy Office at the Korea Institute for Military Affairs, said the remarks broadly meant a shift in foreign policy in accordance with the change of administration from Trump to Biden.

"I think Blinken meant a shift from top-down diplomacy to a bottom-up approach and from bilateral negotiations to multilateral talks," he said.

Kim also said that the nominee's remarks at the hearing likely indicated the Biden team may pursue a nuclear deal similar to the one with Iran in 2015 when dealing with the North's nuclear program as he wrote in an op-ed piece in the New York Times in 2018.

Blinken's remarks came two days after President Moon Jae-in urged the Biden administration, Monday, to build on the 2018 Singapore Declaration.

The declaration, signed between Trump and Kim in June that year following their first summit, stated that the two sides would make joint efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, while the North would commit to a complete denuclearization of the peninsula.

While there has been speculation that the new U.S. administration may not recognize the declaration, Woo Jung-yeop, a research fellow at the Sejong Institute, denied this.

"Blinken's remarks may mean the Biden administration is unlikely to acknowledge the Singapore statement, but they can also be read as the new administration may not demand complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID)," Woo said.

The Trump administration wanted CVID and later final, fully verified denuclearization (FFVD) from the North Korean regime, both of which were rejected.

"In that sense, his remarks did not mean the Biden administration was adopting a new specific policy toward the North ….. they were just theoretical," he added.

Also, during the hearing, Blinken said the U.S. would try to find ways to give humanitarian assistance to suffering North Korean people, hit hard by international and U.S. sanctions.

Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University, said this was a message to pay attention to.

"Humanitarian aid could be used as correspondent measures in nuclear talks with the North. If a maximum level of humanitarian assistance is provided by the U.S., its effects could be tantamount to those of lifting some of the sanctions," Park said.

However, the diplomatic experts concurred that the Biden administration is likely to remain adamant about the sanctions.

"Recently, Blinken said allies needs to squeeze North Korea to get it to the negotiating table, and in the circumstances, the Biden's foreign policy team is expected to use the sanctions to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue," Park said.

Also on Tuesday, Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin said he would seek to quickly conclude stalled negotiations on a defense cost-sharing deal with South Korea, which will decide Seoul's financial contribution to the stationing of 28,500 American troops here.

"If confirmed, I will focus on modernizing our alliances throughout the Indo-Pacific and will seek the early conclusion of cost sharing negotiations with South Korea as part of those efforts," Austin said in a written response to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The allies have remained far apart over the cost-sharing deal due to the huge cap, but President Biden is expected to accept Korea's proposal of a 13 percent increase from the previous cost-sharing accord of $860 million.