Vaccine support talks will be priority at upcoming U.S.-Korea summit

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Vaccine support talks will be priority at upcoming U.S.-Korea summit

President Moon Jae-in, left, and President Joe Biden are scheduled to host their first summit in Washington this Friday. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in, left, and President Joe Biden are scheduled to host their first summit in Washington this Friday. [YONHAP]

Discussions on American support on vaccines for Korea will be a priority at the upcoming U.S.-Korea summit, according to multiple sources in the Moon Jae-in administration.  
 
“The White House has Korea at the top of the agenda when it comes to discussions on vaccine support,” a high-ranking official of the Moon administration told the JoongAng Ilbo recently. “In the discussions in the lead up to the summit, the U.S. government has responded positively to Korea’s request for support on vaccines. The two sides are coordinating the details so as to be able to announce a result at the bilateral summit.”
 
Moon is scheduled to hold a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden this Friday in Washington.  
 
The Korean government had made requests to the United States before, asking for a type of vaccine swap that would involve the United States supplying Korea with vaccines that Korea would return at a later date. Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last month that the two governments were engaged in serious talks regarding the scheme. 
 
However, there has been no acknowledgement on these talks from the United States. The latest comment on the topic came last Thursday when Vice President Kamala Harris, in her conversation with Democrat Rep. Andy Kim, who is of Korean descent, agreed on the need for vaccine support for Korea, according to Yonhap.  
 
“I think it’s a good sign if the vice president of the United States has voiced an agreement,” said another senior-ranking official of Korea. “Both sides are active in discussions on this matter as we prepare for the summit.”
 
In the lead up to the summit, President Moon met with U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines in Seoul last week. Haines stopped by Tokyo before flying into Seoul to meet with her counterparts and the president.  
 
“President Moon and director Haines exchanged broad and in-depth opinions on issues between the two nations and on the situation on the Korean Peninsula,” said presidential spokesperson Park Kyung-mee in a statement on Friday.  
 
Washington’s North Korea policy, recently reviewed and renewed, will also be a top issue in the bilateral summit. 
 
President Moon in an interview with the New York Times last month urged Biden to sit down in negotiation talks with the North, however some experts cautioned against Moon taking on a mediator role between the North and the United States.
 
“If President Moon tries to push forward South Korea’s agenda on the Korean Peninsula issue, or tries to defend the position of North Korea too much, it could backfire [in the talks with the United States],” said Nam Sung-wook, professor of North Korean studies at Korea University. “The Biden administration has its own North Korea policy. It will be best if South Korea does not try too hard to be a mediator.”
 
Other possible topics up for discussions at the summit include the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, Korea-Japan relations, U.S.-Korea cooperation on the semiconductor supply and climate change.  
 
“Denuclearization of North Korea, cooperation on vaccines, the Quad, we’re talking about issues that have no easy solutions,” said Cheong Seong-jang, senior researcher at the Sejong Institute. “It remains to seen how the two leaders will be able to coordinate their ideas and policies during the summit. What comes out of the summit will have a considerable impact on the Korea-U.S. alliance to come.”
 
As of Saturday, Korea recorded an additional 610 cases of Covid-19 infections, of which 38 were imported, bringing the total cases of infections to 131,671, according to Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
 
As of Saturday, 7.3 percent of Korea’s population had received their first dose of vaccination.  
 
BY PARK HYUN-YOUNG, CHOI IK-JAE AND ESTHER CHUNG  [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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