President Biden on Friday welcomed South Korean President Moon Jae-in to the White House ahead of a busy afternoon involving bilateral talks, a medal ceremony and questions from the press.
Mr. Biden said he was honored to have Mr. Moon on hand to participate in a Medal of Honor ceremony for retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr. honoring Col. Puckett’s heroic actions during the Korean War.
“The strength and the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea was born out of the courage, determination, [and] sacrifice of the Korean troops fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops,” Mr. Biden said. “Having you here today is an important recognition of all that our nation has achieved together — both of them — in the decades since.”
Mr. Moon is hoping his meetings in Washington this week can jump-start denuclearization talks on the Korean peninsula, a topic of discussion that undoubtedly will come up on Friday.
His trip to Washington is Mr. Moon‘s first official overseas trip since traveling to China in December 2019.
Meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris earlier Friday, Mr. Moon said he supports the Biden administration’s ambitious efforts to tackle climate change and that his country plans to coordinate closely with the U.S. to denuclearize and establish “permanent peace” on the Korean peninsula.
“You have devoted your life to promoting democracy and enhancing human rights of minority groups, women, people of color, and the underprivileged,” he told the vice president.
Mr. Moon worked some of Mr. Biden’s campaign language into his remarks with Ms. Harris, praising the administration for restoring the “soul” of the country and “building back better.”
The vice president said it’s more important than ever for the two countries to work together.
“President Joe Biden and I are confident that together we can promote a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region — a region that is unconstrained by coercion and anchored in international rules and order,” Ms. Harris said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that North Korea would be a central part of the discussions between Mr. Biden and Mr. Moon.
“I would say that South Korea is an incredibly important partner to the United States,” Ms. Psaki said. “Hence, the president is having one of his first bilats in person with the president of South Korea, and I think that sends a clear message.”
It’s the second time Mr. Biden has hosted a foreign leader for official in-person talks at the White House since taking office in January. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited last month.
Ms. Psaki said climate change and China also would be topics of discussion Friday.
She said, though, that securing an in-person meeting with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is probably not high on Mr. Biden’s priority list.
The Biden administration has signaled it is trying for a middle ground on North Korea — somewhere in between the Trump administration’s aggressive, direct outreach and the Obama administration’s more hands-off approach.
On Thursday, Mr. Moon met with congressional leaders and traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“I hope that a series of dialogues between our two countries … will deepen our bilateral cooperation in not only establishing peace on the Korean peninsula, but also prevailing over COVID-19, reviving the economy and responding to climate change,” Mr. Moon said at the Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
• Dave Boyer and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.