Speed Reads

u.s.-north korea relations

Why a small tweak to America's North Korea policy revealed a bigger change

What seems like a semantics argument may actually reveal quite a bit about where the Biden administration stands on North Korea. After weeks of going back and forth between calling for the "denuclearization of North Korea" and the "denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" in official statements, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and others appear to be settling on the former, The Washington Post reports.

South Korea does not have nuclear weapons, and the United States pulled its tactical nukes from South Korean soil in 1991, the Post notes, but the U.S. does have nuclear-armed bombers and submarines in the region. Therefore, by focusing solely on the denuclearization of North Korea, rather than the whole peninsula, as the Biden administration appears to be doing, the U.S. may be signaling that it's drawing a harder line and does not intend to make any concessions about its bombers and submarines.

It could also suggest there's a disconnect between Washington and Seoul on the matter, since the latter's readout of a Wednesday meeting between Austin and his South Korean counterpart, Suh Wook, differs from comments made by Austin's spokesman, John Kirby.

Either way, it's likely Pyongyang noticed.

For another look at how the minutiae of diplomatic jargon can play a significant role in foreign policy, check out the thread on Taiwan-related language below. Tim O'Donnell