South Korea’s Moon Jae-in wants peace declaration with North in final months of presidency

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SEOUL, Jan. 3 (UPI) — In the final New Year’s address of his single five-year term, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday that he would continue to push toward establishing an “irreversible peace” with North Korea until he leaves office in May.

“Peace is an indispensable condition for prosperity, but peace is prone to faltering if not institutionalized,” Moon said during his televised speech.

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“If given the opportunity, the government will seek a path to normalization of inter-Korean relations and an irreversible peace until the end. And I hope that the next government will continue to strive for dialogue.”

Moon has been seeking a declaration that would officially end the Korean War. The 1950-53 conflict stopped with a cease-fire but no peace treaty has ever been signed, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war.

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Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate from Moon’s Democratic Party, has come out in support of an end-of-war declaration. His opponent Yoon Seok-youl, however, opposes such an agreement, saying it would not be legally binding and could lead to a weaker U.S. military presence on the peninsula.

During his address Monday, Moon stressed that relations on the Korean Peninsula had improved dramatically during his tenure, which saw Pyongyang launch an intercontinental ballistic missile and conduct a nuclear weapon test within his first four months in office.

Moon would go on to help spur a rapprochement with the North, leading to a series of inter-Korean summits and meetings between then-U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“At the time of my inauguration, in the immediate crisis of war, we talked about dialogue and created a path to peace,” Moon said. “While peace is unfinished and tensions sometimes arise, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is more stable than ever.”

Relations have cooled since 2019, however, leading Moon to push for the end-of-war declaration as a means to kick-start a new period of diplomatic relations with the North.

“If we talk again and cooperate, the international community will also respond with dialogue,” Moon said.

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Last week, South Korea’s top diplomat, Chung Eui-yong, said that Washington and Seoul had “effectively reached an agreement” on a draft of the declaration.

The United States has been more measured on the subject, however, with national security adviser Jake Sullivan saying in November that Washington and Seoul were “fundamentally aligned” on core diplomatic goals, but that the two sides “may have somewhat different perspectives on the precise sequence or timing or conditions for different steps.”

Kim Yo Jong, Kim’s influential sister, called the end-of-war proposal “an interesting and an admirable idea” in September, but Pyongyang has shown little urgency to engage with its Southern neighbor since then.

Kim Jong Un’s own New Year’s Day address, usually a platform for Pyongyang’s foreign policy positions, focused almost entirely on economic issues this year. Kim called for a boost to antivirus efforts and an upgrade to the agricultural sector as the country continues to face an economic crisis amid near-total COVID-19 border closures.

Moon on Monday also reflected on the challenges that South Korea has faced under the COVID-19 pandemic and touted his administration’s accomplishments in containing its impact. He vowed that South Korea would achieve a “complete restoration of people’s lives” in 2022.

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