Moon and party leaders discuss Pyongyang issue

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Moon and party leaders discuss Pyongyang issue


President Moon Jae-in, center, holds a dinner for leaders of four political parties in the yard of the Blue House Wednesday evening. From left, Acting Chairman Joo Ho-young of the Bareun Party, Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae of the ruling Democratic Party, Moon, Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party and Chairwoman Lee Jeong-mi of the Justice Party. Chairman Hong Joon-pyo of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party declined the invitation. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in met Wednesday with political leaders to seek bipartisan efforts to deal with North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile threats.

Moon invited leaders of the ruling and opposition parties to a Blue House dinner, but Hong Joon-pyo, chairman of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, refused to attend, criticizing it as a “public display.”

Choo Mi-ae, chairwoman of the ruling Democratic Party; Ahn Cheol-soo, chairman of the People’s Party; Joo Ho-young, acting chairman of the Bareun Party; and Lee Jeong-mi, chairwoman of the Justice Party, attended the meeting.

“It was my presidential pledge to create a routine consultative body of the ruling and opposition parties and the government,” Moon said. “I hope it will be formed as soon as possible to have discussions on security issues at all times.”

“I have traveled around the country and many fear that a war will actually take place,” Ahn said, stressing that it is a politician’s duty to ease the public’s insecurity.

“Our efforts are nearly meaningless because the Kim Jong-un regime’s behavior is unpredictable. At this point, our efforts to prevent a war must be focused on strengthening alliance with the United States.”

Ahn added, “A discrepancy among foreign affairs and national security officials fueled the uneasiness. That is why I have raised the issue of their competence.”

He also said he hopes to find a way during the meeting for Seoul to bolster cooperation with Washington to end Pyongyang’s reckless behavior.

It was Moon’s third meeting with leaders of the main parties since he took office on May 10. The first meeting was with floor leaders of the five parties on May 19, and the second was with party heads on July 19. Hong was a no-show at the second.

Moon was expected to share the outcome of his trip to New York last week, where he attended the United Nations General Assembly and had summit meetings with world leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Before departing, Moon issued a statement on Sept. 17, inviting the party leaders to a discussion.

Because the opposition parties have been critical of Moon’s foreign affairs and national security teams, many believed party leaders would continue the criticism at the meeting.

As Hong decided to boycott the meeting, Ahn became the leader representing the largest opposition party at the meeting. Ahn also has a bitter history with Moon since their fierce rivalry to become the main liberal contender during the 2012 presidential election.

The Blue House made special arrangements to accommodate Ahn, and taking into account his schedule on Wednesday, the meeting was changed from a luncheon to a dinner.

Ahn’s support at the National Assembly has also been a crucial issue for the Blue House and the ruling party because the People’s Party, which controls 40 out of 299 seats in the National Assembly, has decisive power when the legislature is divided between the ruling Democratic Party and Liberty Korea Party.

“The problems of national security and foreign affairs are truly serious,” Ahn told journalists earlier in the morning. “I will tell him what those problems are and what should be done from now on.”

But, he said, this will not preclude reaching a consensus on key issues. “We are having a discussion to produce an agreement to be presented to the public.”

Regarding the foreign affairs and national security teams, Ahn told reporters on Tuesday, “It is a total mess. I will tell Moon about the disappearance of trust with major diplomatic partners, weak foreign affairs and national security teams and the problems with his selection of ambassadors to the four superpowers.”

“There are demands from the party’s senior lawmakers that the entire foreign and security teams be fired, but they were working at the posts for a short period of time,” an aide to Ahn said. “So we are reviewing a recommendation that Moon reinforce the team with experts on the North Korean nuclear issue.”

Joo, the Bareun Party’s acting chairman and floor leader, was expected to criticize Moon’s foreign and security policies. Because he was a vocal advocate of the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, he may press the matter during the dinner.

Lee of the Justice Party said she would ask Moon to reach out to the North. “Our government must lead the diplomacy of peace,” Lee said in an interview with CBS radio in the morning. “As part of these efforts, I think it is not too late to send a special envoy to the North now.”

She said the envoy does not have to be a Moon administration official or a ruling party figure. “The People’s Party should be asked to recommend the candidate,” Lee said, adding that former People’s Party Chairman Park Jie-won or its current head, Ahn, could be an envoy.

While the participating parties criticized Hong’s decision to boycott the meeting, Hong reiterated his stance. “There is no need for me to attend a meeting where Moon will act as if he is inspecting soldiers,” he said at a special lecture at Korea University in the morning. “They labeled me the representative of evil forces. Why, then, are they inviting me to the Blue House?”

The Liberty Korea Party said Wednesday that Hong would visit the United States from Oct. 23 to 27 to promote the party’s proposal to resolve the nuclear crisis with American politicians and officials.

The party is trying to arrange meetings with senior foreign and defense officials as well as leaders of the U.S. Senate and House.

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