On Wednesday, November 17th, Daniel Kritenbrink, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, met with the South Korean presidential candidates of the country’s two major parties. The two candidates, Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party of Korea and Yoon Seok-youl of the People Party, were expected to share their visions on foreign policy and discuss a wide range of bilateral regional issues. This will be Kritenbrink’s first trip to Asia since assuming office in September. 

The following day, Kritenbrink met with his South Korean counterpart, Yeo Seung-bae, deputy foreign minister for political affairs, to discuss bilateral relations, North Korea and other regional issues. Kritenbrink, a career diplomat, was most recently the ambassador to Vietnam and has also served multiple posts related to Asia, including senior advisor for North Korea policy at the department and senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council. 

The diplomat’s visit comes as Washington and Seoul have been calling for Pyongyang to return to dialogue, which hasn’t progressed since the collapse of the Hanoi Summit in 2019. In an attempt to restore democracy and conversation, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has continued to push to declare a formal end to the 1950 to 1953 Korean War. 

While South Korean officials see an end-of-war declaration as a catalyst for future talks and a political gesture to build trust and end hostilities with Pyongyang, officials in Washington, D.C. believe it could be challenging to get Washington to sign onto the declaration without a commitment to denuclearization from North Korea. Washington officials noted that the allies could have “different perspectives” on the sequence, timing and conditions on the end-of-war declaration.