Biden ‘not concerned’ about North Korean nuclear tests, says ‘hello’ to Kim Jong-un

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On his last day in Seoul, US president Joe Biden had only one message for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un: “Hello... period.”

Speaking to reporters in South Korea on Sunday before departing for the Quad summit with India, Japan and Australia in Tokyo, Mr Biden added that he was “not concerned” about new North Korean nuclear tests.

“We are prepared for anything North Korea does,” Mr Biden said.

Last week, South Korea’s presidential office had said that North Korea may be a step closer to carrying out its seventh nuclear test.

Mr Biden’s statement came a day after the US and South Korea promised to “expand military exercises” to deter threats from the North.

His response when asked what message he had for Mr Kim displayed the Biden administration’s low-key approach to the tensions surrounding Pyongyang’s recent activities. This is in complete contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump’s ostentatious displays of summits or threats, according to Reuters.

The president, who is on his first trip to Asia since taking office in 2020, signed a joint statement along with his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk-yeol to further strengthen deterrence.

“With this in mind, and considering the evolving threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), both leaders agree to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula,” said the joint statement released by the White House on Saturday.

Earlier, a senior Biden administration official had said that the US is ready for diplomacy with North Korea.

On Saturday, when the president was asked if he would meet with the North Korean leader, Mr Biden told CNN: “That would depend on whether he’s sincere and whether he’s serious.”

A senior US government official said that Covid-19 restrictions may be playing a role in North Korea’s lack of response to the US’ overtures.

North Korea is dealing with its first confirmed Covid outbreak since the pandemic began two years ago.

When asked whether the president was willing to take concrete steps to break the stalemate, the official said that the administration was looking for serious engagement, not grand gestures.

“This is a decision that only the DPRK can make,” the official said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

Additional reporting by agencies