Possibility of Yoon-Biden summit in May arises
Biden said in opening remarks in a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday that he is "looking forward" to seeing him in Japan around May 24 at a meeting of leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad. Quad is a U.S.-led cooperative forum with India, Japan and Australia.
While Biden has traveled to Europe, this would be his first visit to Asia since taking office in January 2021.
There is speculation that Biden could visit Korea for a summit with Yoon, who will be inaugurated on May 10.
If that happens, it would be an unusually fast summit with an American president for a new Korean president.
Traditionally, a newly elected Korean president visits Washington soon after his or her inauguration for a first summit with the U.S. leader.
Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said in a press briefing Monday, "The president is looking forward to going to Asia at some point, but I don't have any more details at this point in time."
Her remarks seemed to suggest that Biden was planning a visit to the Asian region, not just Japan, leaving open the possibility of a Korea stop.
Biden was the first foreign leader President-elect Yoon spoke to over the phone on March 10, hours after his election victory was declared.
Earlier this month, Yoon sent a policy consultation delegation to Washington led by People Power Party (PPP) Rep. Park Jin. Yoon's delegation returned from Washington Monday, concluding an eight-day trip to meet with officials at the White House and State Department, congressional leaders and experts at think tanks.
The visit included a trip to the White House to meet with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to discuss the Korea-U.S. alliance, deployment of U.S. strategic assets, North Korea issues and a possible bilateral summit.
Park gave Sullivan a personal letter from Yoon to Biden.
"The two sides shared a consensus on the need for an early Korea-U.S. summit," Park said in a press conference with correspondents in Washington on April 7. "If President Biden has an opportunity to visit Asia, it would be very desirable for him to visit Korea and hold a summit, and I was able to confirm that the U.S. side thought the same."
Yoon previously said he supports South Korea's participation in the Quad, often seen as a means of containing China. The Quad issue was also discussed during Yoon's policy delegation's meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman last week.
Biden hosted an in-person meeting of Quad leaders at the White House in Washington last September to emphasize the allies' shared commitment to safeguarding democracy in the Indo-Pacific region. At that time, he hosted Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Fumio Kishida succeeded Suga as Japanese prime minister last October, and Tokyo has been working with Washington to arrange an early visit by Biden for the Quad summit in the springtime, with Australia's general election on May 21 being a factor in the timing.
Choi Ji-hyeon, senior deputy spokesperson for the presidential transition committee, was asked in a press briefing Tuesday about reports that Biden could visit Korea at the end of May. "The president-elect's side and the transition team have not heard anything, she said. "I believe the source of information is from overseas."
President Moon Jae-in held a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June 2017, 51 days after taking office. Former President Park Geun-hye held a summit with her U.S. counterpart after 71 days and former President Lee Myung-bak did so 54 days after taking office. Former President Roh Moo-hyun met with U.S. President George W. Bush 79 days after taking office.
A summit between Yoon and Biden would be an opportunity to discuss North Korean denuclearization and strengthening the Korea-U.S. alliance and possibly improving Seoul-Tokyo relations.
Summits are prepared by the Blue House National Security Office, Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Korea. However, Yoon is still establishing his foreign affairs and security teams.
Sung Kim, U.S. special representative for North Korea, will visit Seoul next week to coordinate Pyongyang policy ahead of the launch of the new Yoon administration.
His trip, expected to kick off Monday, will include meetings with South Korean nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk and other officials of the outgoing Moon administration and also with members of Yoon's transition team. It will coincide with an annual springtime joint military exercise between Seoul and Washington that runs from Monday to April 28, traditionally a period of escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]