President Park turns invitation to Russia down

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President Park turns invitation to Russia down

South Korean President Park Geun-hye is not expected to attend Russia’s World War II victory anniversary celebration next month, an event North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is scheduled to show up at.

Instead, Park will dispatch a special envoy to Moscow, the ruling Saenuri Party’s Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday.

There was anticipation of a possible summit between the North and South Korean leaders at the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II on May 9 should Park have chosen to accept the Kremlin’s invitation.

Russia invited world leaders, including Park and Kim, to the event last December. North Korea’s Kim accepted the invitation last month, according to Russian officials.

Kim, should he visit Russia next month for the event, would be embarking on his first foreign trip after succeeding his father in December 2011. It would mark the first time a North Korean leader did not visit China as his first overseas destination.

Dispatching Rep. Yoon, a member of the National Assembly’s foreign affairs and unification committee, is expected to help bolster ties between South Korea and Russia, said the government in Seoul.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that a special envoy being dispatched to Russia by the president “is expected to boost Seoul-Moscow relations,” as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties between the two nations.

Observers in Seoul pointed out that Park not attending the event is likely because there has been no improvement in inter-Korean relations, so a summit with Kim Jong-un would simply be for the sake of meeting.

The ongoing Ukraine crisis is also expected to have contributed towards Seoul’s decision, especially with U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe having turned down Russia’s invitation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to attend the event.

“Our government already has said that we support Ukraine’s sovereignty. Unless there is a change of situation in Ukraine, it will be difficult for the South Korean president to attend [the World War II victory event],” a Foreign Ministry official here said on Sunday.

Russia has faced international backlash over the situation in Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, and has bonded with Pyongyang recently, especially as both countries face sanctions by the United States.

The two countries have also declared this year as their “Friendship Year.”

There is still anticipation that some sort of contact between Seoul and Pyongyang will take place in Moscow. In a confirmation hearing last month for new Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo, Rep. Yoon said in regard to inter-Korean talks, “I believe that while official talks are needed, closed-door [North-South] contact is also needed.”

BY SARAH KIM, YOO JEE-HYE [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr ]



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