Moon Jae-in: Biden administration should build on Trump’s North Korea summits

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SEOUL, Jan. 18 (UPI) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday the upcoming inauguration presents an opportunity to restart dialogue with North Korea and urged President-elect Joe Biden should to upon the 2018 Singapore summit agreement between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.

“The achievements we have seen in the Trump administration should be the basis of talks with the new administration in the United States,” Moon said at a New Year’s news conference held at the presidential Blue House and streamed online.

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The June 2018 summit in Singapore produced a joint declaration in which Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” while Trump committed to providing security guarantees to North Korea.

The two sides also agreed to work together to establish improved relations and build a lasting and stable peace regime on the peninsula. Subsequent negotiations, though, faltered and have been at a stalemate since a follow-up summit held in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2019 failed to reach an agreement.

Moon said the stalled nuclear negotiations were “regrettable” but the new administration will offer a chance to reset relations.

“President-elect Biden and his new administration will be inaugurated soon and this would be a basis for North Korea-U.S. talks and inter-Korean dialogues to restart,” Moon said.

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During a party congress last week, Kim called the United States the “principal enemy” and said North Korea would continue to build up its nuclear weapons capacity. A military parade held Friday in Pyongyang showed off new weaponry including a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

When Biden takes office Wednesday, he will have a long list of urgent policy issues to tackle, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a reeling economy. However, Moon said that he believed the Biden administration would treat North Korea as a key foreign policy priority.

“Many people in Joe Biden’s administration have a great deal of expertise on Korean Peninsula issues and they see the importance of dialogue,” Moon said. “So I believe that the issue of North Korea will be a priority in U.S. diplomacy. I will also exert my full efforts and intensify cooperation with the U.S.”

Moon also discussed the prospects of inter-Korean relations at the news conference, including a long-awaited visit to Seoul by Kim, which was first announced at a summit held in Pyongyang in 2018.

“[The visit] has been agreed upon and I hope that it can be achieved in the future,” Moon said. “I don’t believe it is a prerequisite [to further dialogue] and I don’t think it needs to be pursued under any circumstances. But I am willing to meet Chairman Kim any place and any time.”

Moon said South Korea would seek to push ahead with joint inter-Korean projects, including humanitarian aid efforts which do not violate international sanctions against North Korea. He also held out the option of video or other non-face-to-face meetings with Kim.

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On the domestic front, Moon addressed extending presidential pardons to his predecessors in office, former Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, both of whom are currently serving prison sentences for crimes including corruption.

The issue has become a politically charged one in South Korea, particularly since the leader of Moon’s Democratic Party, Rep. Lee Nak-yon, proposed offering the pardons earlier this month as a means of promoting “national unity.”

Moon said he would not make a move unless there was overwhelming public sentiment behind the pardons.

“I believe that it is not yet time for us to raise the issue of pardoning,” he said. “It needs to have a consensus among the public, and if there is not a consensus, I don’t believe that it would be a unifying measure for society.”

The South Korean president has seen his approval numbers plummet to record lows in recent weeks over issues including an overheated housing market and contentious prosecution reform efforts.

Moon has also faced heavy criticism for South Korea’s slow start in acquiring COVID-19 vaccines from pharmaceutical suppliers.

He vowed vaccinations would start in February and that herd immunity would be achieved by no later than November.

“We believe that at the latest by November, we would have herd immunity developed here in South Korea,” Moon said. “And as for the timing of these vaccinations and the timing of herd immunity, compared to other countries, South Korea is not behind — rather, we believe that we will be among the first countries to achieve it.”

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