NIS chief: ‘Kim sought Pyongyang’s opinion’

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NIS chief: ‘Kim sought Pyongyang’s opinion’

The head of the country’s main spy agency said the agency’s former director, Kim Man-bok, did indeed float the idea of asking North Korea for its opinion on a 2007 UN vote addressing Pyongyang’s human rights conditions, supporting the account given by a top diplomatic official’s memoir.

Speaking before lawmakers during an annual audit on the National Intelligence Service (NIS) Wednesday, the NIS chief, Lee Byong-ho, acknowledged his predecessor Kim had proposed asking Pyongyang about the vote as described in former Foreign Minister Song Min-soon’s memoir, “A Glacier Inevitably Moves.”

According to Rep. Yi Wan-young of the Saenuri Party, who was at the hearing, when asked whether the former director came up with the idea, as described by Song’s memoir, Lee answered, “Yes, I think that’s correct.”

The NIS chief was said to have lamented the idea of asking Pyongyang about the vote as “humiliating” and “absurd,” but that he was speaking from his “personal opinion,” saying he had not seen official documents backing up his assessment. Opposition Minjoo lawmakers at the audit stressed this point, downplaying Lee’s remark as one merely based on his personal perspective and lacking any objective intelligence documents to support it.

Rep. Kim Byung-ki tried to back up his party’s case against Lee before reporters Wednesday, saying the intelligence chief was always speaking before lawmakers on the premise that he was answering with his personal opinion.

The director’s remark was made amid growing partisan conflict over Song’s memoir, which has pushed former top officials of the Roh Moo-hyun government, especially then-presidential chief of staff Moon Jae-in, into a corner.

In the memoir, Song, a former veteran diplomat of 33 years, claimed Moon accepted then-NIS director Kim’s idea and told officials to send a message to the North. This has drawn strong backlash against Moon, as he was depicted in the book as an official who ultimately gave the green light to asking Pyongyang its opinion on the pending vote in New York.

In response to the political firestorm, former Roh government officials rebuffed Song’s account, claiming the Roh government simply notified the North of its decision to abstain from the voting on Nov. 18.

Moon Jae-in, the former Minjoo chairman, ranked second in the polls for next year’s presidential election, called the attacks on Thursday by the Saenuri Party over the decision nine years ago “outdated ideological offensives.”

“When the public’s anger is soaring over a scandal surrounding Choi Soon-sil,” he said, “Saenuri is only obsessed with incidents that occurred 10 years ago and preoccupied with an ideological offensive. Their only reason for doing so is to damage me.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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