Engagement with North can’t wait for Washington

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Engagement with North can’t wait for Washington

President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday that improvement in inter-Korean ties can’t wait for progress in denuclearization talks between North Korea and the United States, hinting Seoul may try to push through joint projects with Pyongyang despite opposition from Washington.

“As the United States enters the election phase, I don’t think there’s much time left between North Korea and the United States” to solve the nuclear issue, Moon told some 200 reporters from the local and foreign media at the Blue House in central Seoul during his annual New Year’s press conference.

“I think [the North] needs to quickly [resume] talks [with the United States], and our government will try to make that happen.”

Asked whether his government would wait for the lifting of international sanctions to engage with the North and carry out joint projects, Moon replied that Seoul and Washington need to come up with “a new idea” to break through the ongoing stalemate in denuclearization talks.

The reason why the talks are in a logjam, he said, is because Washington and Pyongyang have different opinions on how far the United States is willing to ease sanctions when the North takes denuclearization measures, and vice versa.

“If [South Korea] tries to expand the South-North cooperative relationship to its maximum point without relying on [progress] in talks between North Korea and the United States,” Moon said, “I think that could be a path to accelerate talks between North Korea and the United States, and if necessary, broaden international support of some sort on the acknowledgement of partial exemptions of sanctions against the North.”

Moon said that Seoul needs to take more initiative in improving relations between Pyongyang because issues pertaining to inter-Korean ties are “our problem.”

Pyongyang’s relations with Seoul and Washington aren’t “positive” right now, said Moon, yet neither are they “negative.”

On Seoul’s possible deployment of troops to the Strait of Hormuz, Moon vowed to find a “comprehensive” and “realistic” solution to the issue while considering both the South Korea-U.S. alliance and South Korea’s diplomatic ties between Iran.

“The most important thing is the safety of our companies and people in the region, and we must also pay attention to the subjects of crude oil supply and demand and energy transportation.”

On relations with Japan, Moon said the South Korean government “proposed a solution to the issue of forced labor several times” and urged Tokyo to do the same.

“The Japanese government must devise a solution that can be accepted by [the South Korean] victims,” he urged.

With China, Moon raised hopes for a possible visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, saying if they come to South Korea this year, it would serve as a chance to “significantly improve” South-China relations.

Moon’s New Year’s conference was the third of its kind. It was held for about an hour and a half from 10 a.m., touching on issues related to politics, diplomacy and the economy.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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