The White House said Friday that President Joe Biden plans to veer from the approaches of his two most recent predecessors as he tries to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, rejecting both Donald Trump’s deeply personal effort to win over Kim Jong Un and Barack Obama’s more hands-off approach.
Press secretary Jen Psaki announced administration officials had completed a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, seen as one of the greatest and most vexing national security threats facing the United States and its allies. Psaki did not detail findings of the review, but suggested the administration would seek a middle ground between Trump's “grand bargain” and Obama’s “strategic patience” approaches.
“Our goal remains the complete de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula with a clear understanding that the efforts of the past four administrations have not achieved this objective,” Psaki told reporters on Air Force One as Biden traveled to Philadelphia.
The administration announced it would conduct the review soon after Biden took office in January. Psaki said officials consulted outside experts, allies and predecessors from several previous administrations as part of the process.
“Our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience,” she said.
Biden, like his old boss Obama, has confirmed that he sees North Korea as perhaps the most delicate foreign policy quandary for the United States and its allies. But Psaki's comments suggest distancing from Obama's dual-track policy that kept engagement open for its good behavior while seeking to impose sanctions for its bad behavior.
The Biden administration also appeared to signal it is trying to set the stage for incremental progress, in which denuclearization steps by the North would be met with corresponding actions, including sanctions relief, from the U.S.
There was no mention of U.S. security guarantees for North Korea or a formal end to the Korean War, both of which had been demanded by the North and considered by the Trump team as part of a larger package.