The news that the Biden administration will pursue a “calibrated, practical approach to diplomacy with the North with the goal of eliminating the threat to the United States” is welcome. The question is how much risk the White House and Congress are willing to take in order to break the deadlock and bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.
President Donald Trump, to his credit, opened the possibility for a new kind of bilateral relationship with North Korea by engaging in direct talks with Kim Jong Un. The Biden administration should take full advantage of this opening by taking another unprecedented step in declaring the 70-year Korean War over and calling for a formal peace treaty. Such bold preemptive moves are urgently needed to end the original “forever war” and build trust between both countries.
Another open question is how the Biden administration will work with Congress on the North Korea issue. It is possible — even likely — that hawks in Congress will place unrealistic demands or create barriers to poison the atmosphere for negotiations. For example, some members of Congress may demand that the Biden administration appoint a hardliner for the role of Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights, rather than someone who will pursue a more holistic approach for tackling both human rights and humanitarian issues facing North Koreans.
Ultimately, any U.S. policy toward North Korea should advance American interests, even if that involves taking a certain amount of risk.