US denial of Biden-Moon meeting triggers speculation

Then President Moon Jae-in, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden smile in this photo taken in Washington D.C. on May 21 during Moon's visit to the United States. Yonhap

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Washington has denied local media reports that U.S. President Joe Biden will meet former President Moon Jae-in during the U.S. leader's visit to Seoul for a summit with President Yoon Suk-yeol. Biden will arrive in South Korea on Friday for a three-day visit.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a press briefing on Wednesday (local time), "We don't have a meeting scheduled with President Moon at this time."

The U.S.' denial of the Biden-Moon meeting came weeks after a then Cheong Wa Dae official confirmed on April 28 the U.S. request for the rare meeting. At that time, Moon was still in office. May 9th was his last day in the presidency.

The Cheong Wa Dae official said Seoul and Washington were preparing for the Biden-Moon meeting to be held on May 22, upon the request of the U.S. "He (Biden) maybe wants to meet his friend during his visit to Korea," the official said, noting that consultations between the two sides had been underway to set the exact time and venue.

On Thursday, the former president confirmed that the Biden-Moon meeting won't be held.

In a media interview, an unnamed aide of Moon said the former president was contacted by a person working for President Biden on Thursday, a day before Biden's scheduled arrival in South Korea, and heard that the U.S. president ultimately wouldn't be able to meet Moon during his Seoul visit. "They didn't explain to us why, and we didn't ask them why, either, because we didn't think they should have to do that," the aide said, adding that the Moon side had until recently been arranging a meeting between the two after the U.S. side proposed one based on President Biden's hope to meet President Moon personally and informally.

Rep. Youn Kun-young of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea said on Thursday that it was true that Washington had indeed requested to hold a Biden-Moon meeting.

"It's clear that the U.S. contacted Cheong Wa Dae to request the meeting," he said. "I think the ball is now in the U.S.' court and they need to provide an accurate response," he said during a radio interview.

Prior to become a lawmaker, Youn worked for Moon as a presidential secretary.

"There appear to be several different reasons behind the U.S. side denying its plans for the meeting," he said.

News reports about the Biden-Moon meeting had sparked speculation about the U.S. president's motives behind the rare proposal for an official meeting with the South Korean leader, who would be a former president when they were to meet.

Some said that Biden might ask Moon to play a role to help North Korea denuclearize.

Jeong Se-hyun, the former unification minister during the Roh Moo-hyun government, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that the former president could play a role to narrow the differences between the United States and North Korea regarding the denuclearization of its nuclear weapons program. Citing then-Unification Minister nominee Kweon Young-se's remarks about a special envoy to the North during his confirmation hearing, Jeong said that Seoul and Washington seemed to have agreed on the need to send an envoy to the North.

Rep. Youn said if the subject is about South Korea sending a special envoy to North Korea, it is not a matter involving the U.S. but rather a question that the current Yoon administration has to answer.

Kang Hyun-kyung

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