On Saturday, US President Joe Biden will visit South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol for the first time since the latter’s inauguration 11 days ago. The discussions are anticipated to focus on North Korea’s nuclear threat and the country’s political impasse. There is widespread concern that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may conduct fresh nuclear tests. Biden and Suk-Yeol are set to meet in Seoul, South Korea. US intelligence reports indicating probable North Korean nuclear tests have placed a pall on the two leaders’ meetings.
On Saturday, a senior Biden administration official told reporters that the two leaders will discuss nuclear cooperation and that Washington is still open to negotiation with North Korea. ‘ It is our strong desire to find methods to be diplomatic,’ the official added. ‘We’ve made it plain that we’re willing to talk to them with no strings attached, and we’re also willing to take steps to solve their domestic issues, including COVID.’
It is unknown how the United States and South Korea intend to engage the North. Since Biden’s election, North Korea has refused the United States’ outreach efforts. Yoon has taken a harsher stance against North Korea than his predecessor and is expected to seek Biden’s assistance. Yoon has threatened to launch a pre-emptive strike if there is any indication of an impending assault and has pledged to boost the South’s deterrent capabilities.
North Korea’s first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak, called ‘very significant’ by a US official, may give an opening. ‘ We are really concerned about the COVID scenario,’ stated the official. ‘We are extremely sensitive to the fact that they look to be in a very terrible position, and as you have seen, we stand ready to collaborate with others in the international community to give aid as needed.’
On Saturday, North Korea reported more than 200,000 new fever patients for the fifth day in a row, but the nation lacks vaccines and modern treatment for the pandemic. According to health professionals, this has heightened the possibility of a diplomatic opening as well as a humanitarian disaster or the emergence of deadlier new COVID varieties.