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White House says trilateral summit at G7 still possible

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U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, center, prepares to board Marine One in Washington Wednesday, to accompany U.S. President Joe Biden for a trip to Japan for the G7 Summit in Hiroshima. [YONHAP]
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, center, prepares to board Marine One in Washington Wednesday, to accompany U.S. President Joe Biden for a trip to Japan for the G7 Summit in Hiroshima. [YONHAP]

U.S. President Joe Biden is still trying to hold a trilateral summit with Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during the Group of 7 (G7) Summit in Hiroshima later this week, said a top White House official.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on board Air Force One en route to Japan on Wednesday that a trilateral summit is still in the works despite Biden’s “very packed schedule” in Hiroshima, though nothing can be confirmed at the moment.

“There is goodwill on all three parts to do it, particularly to recognize the real progress that has been made between the ROK [Republic of Korea] and Japan with U.S. support, and the stronger bilateral ties between the ROK and Japan mean a stronger trilateral relationship,” Sullivan said. “But we don’t have anything to confirm yet because we’re still working through a number of these scheduling pieces.”

Sullivan referred to the recent thaw in diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan, following Yoon’s visit to Tokyo in March and a return trip by Kishida to Seoul earlier this month. The two neighboring countries have struggled to overcome historical disputes, namely the compensation of Korean wartime forced labor victims which led to a trade spat, and are working to normalize bilateral relations.

The United States has welcomed this move as it puts on track its push for closer trilateral cooperation with its East Asian allies, especially in light of rising North Korea missile threats.

This comes as Biden cut short his G7 trip due to domestic issues, leading to the cancellation of trips to Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The White House confirmed Tuesday that the additional legs of Biden’s Asia-Pacific tour that was to begin with the G7 trip in Japan on Wednesday were canceled amid the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations in Washington.

Likewise, a planned summit of Quad leaders in Sydney next week was postponed. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, is a U.S.-led cooperative forum with India, Japan and Australia, often seen as a means of containing China.

Instead, Biden is set to return to Washington on Sunday to continue to make sure Congress takes action by the June 1 deadline to avert default.

On Friday, Yoon, accompanied by first lady Kim Keon-hee, begins a three-day trip to Hiroshima, returning to Japan in just two months as “shuttle diplomacy” between the two countries leaders resumes after a 12-year hiatus.

South Korea was invited by Japan to attend the G7 leaders’ summit as a guest country alongside Australia, Brazil, Comoros, the Cook Islands, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The presidential office said Thursday that Yoon is scheduled to hold bilateral summits with the leaders of Australia, Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Britain over Friday and Saturday.

Yoon and Kishida will hold bilateral talks on Sunday.

“Other summits currently under discussion will be announced as soon as negotiations are completed,” the office added in a statement.

Yoon is also scheduled to visit the monument for Korean atomic bomb victims at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park with Kishida.

The Korean and Japanese governments previously confirmed that a trilateral summit with the United States would take place on the sidelines of the G7 gathering, which if it happens will be the third such meeting between Yoon, Kishida and Biden.

A trilateral talk could be an opportunity to check on the implementation process of an agreement reached by the leaders at the Phnom Penh summit last November to share North Korean missile warning information in real-time.

Yoon held a bilateral summit with Biden in a state visit to the United States last month, leading to the historic Washington Declaration, which Sullivan said Wednesday is a part of “one of the most effective and impactful strings of American diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific in an incredibly long time.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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