WASHINGTON – The Biden administration quietly reached out to the North Korean government in February but has not received any response yet, a senior administration official confirmed on Saturday.
The move comes after four years of the Trump administration’s tumultuous, hot-and-cold diplomacy with the reclusive nuclear-armed nation.
“To reduce the risks of escalation, we reached out to the North Korean government through several channels starting in mid-February, including in New York,” the administration official told USA TODAY. The contacts were first reported by Reuters and CNN.
“To date, we have not received any response from Pyongyang,” said the official, who noted that it came after more than a year with no active dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea “despite multiple attempts by the U.S. to engage.”
Former President Donald Trump began his term by publicly threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” before he pivoted to a splashy diplomatic opening aimed at persuading North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to relinquish his country’s nuclear arsenal.
Although Trump met in person with Kim three times, the unprecedented summits never produced a concrete agreement. North Korea continued to build up its nuclear and conventional weapons program during Trump’s four years in office.
During the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden blasted Trump’s meetings with Kim as “photo-ops,” calling them a “vanity project” that gave the ruthless dictator undeserved legitimacy with no concessions in return.
The Biden administration is currently in the midst of a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, including an evaluation of “all available options to address the increasing threat posed by North Korea to its neighbors and the broader international community,” the administration official said Saturday. The review could be done in the coming weeks.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was headed for Asia on his first diplomatic trip as Biden’s chief diplomat. North Korea will be a top item on his agenda as he meets with officials in South Korea and Japan, two key allies in the region.
“Our commitment to seeking a compete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula … has not changed,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Sung Kim told reporters on Friday during a briefing on Blinken’s trip.
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