South Korea’s President Urges NATO to Take North Korea Seriously as Biden Quietly Loses Top Official on Issue

Yoon Suk-yeol
Kim Hong-ji/Pool Photo via AP, File

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is expected to participate in this week’s NATO summit, preceding his arrival in Washington with remarks to Reuters on Tuesday in which he described North Korea’s relationship to China, NATO’s top preoccupation, as a “distinct threat” to Europe.

President Joe Biden is currently hosting the NATO summit. In his remarks on Tuesday to open the event, the president emphasized NATO’s support for non-member Ukraine – whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is in attendance – and NATO’s wish to see Russia defeated in its invasion of the country. He recognized the presence of NATO’s “Indo-Pacific Partners” in passing, but did not mention North Korea as a threat of particular concern to NATO.

Yoon, a conservative, has spent much of his tenure making the case that North Korea is more than a regional threat. The expanding ties between Russia and North Korea, he told Reuters, make the communist regime an increasingly visible threat to Europe. North Korea has long maintained ties with Russia and the former Soviet Union, but dramatically expanded the nature of its defense ties with Moscow by signing a “comprehensive partnership” on security in June. The deal, signed during Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s visit to Pyongyang that month, requires either party to offer military support in the event that the other is attacked. It remains unclear at press time if either party will interpret Ukrainian self-defense operations against Russian forces as an attack that requires North Korean intervention.

“Military co-operation between Russia and North Korea poses a distinct threat and grave challenge to the peace and security on the Korean peninsula and in Europe,” Yoon told Reuters in remarks published on Tuesday. The South Korean president said he would raise the issue of North Korea complicating the already challenging war theater in Ukraine with other world leaders at the NATO summit.

“North Korea is clearly a menace to the international society,” Yoon continued. “I hope that Russia will sensibly decide which side – the South or the North – is more important and necessary for its own interests.”

Yoon added that his government is open to maintaining relations with Russia but “the future of ROK [South Korea]-Russia relations depends entirely on Russia’s actions.”

The newspaper Korea JoongAng Daily reported on Wednesday that Yoon is expected to hold meetings with “more than 10 countries, including Japan, Germany, and Britain,” during his time at the NATO summit. Yoon is one of four non-NATO states – the others being Australia, New Zealand, and Japan – attending the summit in their capacity as Indo-Pacific NATO partners. He has attended NATO summits consecutively since 2022, when he became the first South Korean president to do so.

Yoon made a stop in Hawaii before traveling to Washington, delivering remarks on Tuesday expressing commitment to improving military cooperation with America.

“North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile capabilities and continued provocations are threatening security on the Korean Peninsula and in the region. A steadfast combined defense readiness is more critical than ever,” Yoon said in Hawaii, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

“Strong power and solidarity among countries that share values are essential to protecting our liberal democracy and economic prosperity from these reckless forces,” he continued.

Yoon will be facing a Washington particularly ill-prepared to handle the threat of communist North Korea when he attends NATO meetings on Wednesday. Biden has clearly failed to prioritize keeping Pyongyang’s nuclear threat at bay, focusing most of his foreign policy efforts on Ukraine and pressuring Israel to limit its self-defense operations against Hamas.

The State Department’s top official on North Korea, Senior Official for the DPRK [North Korea] and Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Jung Pak, resigned sometime in the past week, Yonhap revealed on Tuesday. Pak’s State Department biography still shows her at press time as an employee of the federal government, but Yonhap cited anonymous sources who confirmed that she had resigned. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller later confirmed that Pak “stepped down” and the Biden administration has not formally appointed a replacement.

Dr. Jung H. Pak (

Putin’s visit to North Korea in June, while not explicitly related to Ukraine, has raised the possibility of greater support from the communist dictatorship for the Russian invasion. North Korean state media described Putin as enthusiastic about growing ties with North Korea, celebrating an “unprecedentedly high level of comprehensive strategic partnership” between the two countries.

In this photo provided Thursday, June 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center left, and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, center right, ride in an open car as they parade during the official welcome ceremony at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency.(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The South Korean government responded to North Korea cutting a military deal with Russia by threatening to arm Ukraine. While an ally of Kyiv’s – Yoon paid a surprise visit to the capital in July 2023 – South Korea has offered only humanitarian aid to Ukraine, refusing to arm it. Yoon and Zelensky are expected to discuss their bilateral ties in Washington this week.

“As for the supply of lethal weapons to the combat zone in Ukraine, it would be a very big mistake,” Putin told reporters in June, responding to South Korea. “I hope it will not happen. If it does, then we too will then make the respective decisions, which South Korea’s current leadership is unlikely to be pleased with.”

Yoon’s government has since insisted that it would make no moves prior to observing Russia’s behavior regarding the North.

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