Trump, Pence Speak at Global Forum Held By S. Korean Church

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Former U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the Biden administration over its handling of North Korea, at a church-led event in South Korea that included as a guest speaker former Vice-President Mike Pence.

Several former leaders and top officials participated virtually or in-person at the weekend event in Seoul organized by the Unification Church, a Christian group known for its mass weddings and global business and media interests. Pence was among those who attended the event and spoke in person.

Trump appeared in a recorded video message that was screened on Sunday at the church-led forum.

He alleged that a recent "return to escalation" that has seen North Korean leader Kim Jong Un launch missile tests would "never have happened if I were president."

He also urged North Korea not to undertake any actions that could "endanger" what he described as the "unique opportunity that we worked so hard to create together over the past four years."

The North resumed tests of shorter-range weapons threatening U.S. ally South Korea while Trump was in office in 2019. The year before, Kim had unilaterally suspended the testing of nuclear explosives and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.

Trump met Kim three times during his presidency. Their diplomacy never recovered from the collapse of their second meeting in February 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korean demands for a major release of U.S.-led sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

North Korea kicked off 2020 with ramped-up testing activity, conducting seven rounds of missile launches in January alone.

Experts say the North could increase weapons demonstrations after its ally China finishes hosting the Winter Olympics in Beijing, as it attempts to move the needle with the Biden administration, which has offered open-ended talks but shown no willingness to budge on sanctions.

During his speech at the weekend gathering, Pence said deepening relations between China and Russia are posing increasing threats to their democratic neighbors, according to the forum organizers. He also called for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the statement read.

While in Seoul, Pence met with South Korean conservative presidential candidate, Yoon Suk Yeol, as well as foreign policy advisers to the rival ruling party of Lee Jae-myung. The U.S. politician exchanged views on North Korea, according to campaign officials with from both camps.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among those who attended the Unification Church event in person, along with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.