After 19 days, Moon and Yoon finally get together
They had dinner at the Sangchunje guest house at the Blue House in central Seoul at 6 p.m., accompanied by Moon's chief of staff, Yoo Young-min, and main opposition People Power Party (PPP) Rep. Chang Je-won, Yoon's chief of staff.
It has never taken as long as 19 days after an election for an outgoing president to meet with his successor.
The meeting lasted nearly three hours, longer than initially expected, ending around 8:50 p.m.
The meal included bibimbap, a Korean rice dish with spring vegetables, and galbi (marinated beef ribs) paired with red wine.
Chang said in a briefing after the dinner that the atmosphere was "harmonious," and that Moon offered his "sincere congratulations."
Yoon thanked Moon and said that "it is important to inherit successful policies" from the current government and improve ones that aren't so good.
Chang noted that the two sides "respected each other" and "showed the intention to enable a smooth transition," amid concerns over discord between the outgoing and incoming presidents.
Moon conveyed that he plans to cooperate with Yoon's plan to move the presidential office to the Defense Ministry compound in Yongsan District, central Seoul. Moon, while not technically opposed to the relocation, has been concerned that a security vacuum could result from rushing a move by the start of Yoon's five-year term on May 10.
Chang quoted Moon as saying, "I think the decision to relocate the presidential office is up to the next administration, and the current government will closely examine the budget according to the exact relocation plan and cooperate."
The two sides also discussed security matters, he said, and agreed to work together on them in the transition process.
Chang said that the two sides didn't focus on any frustrations and that he "didn't feel any difference in opinions."
The two sides have butted heads over personnel appointments and the idea of a special pardon for former President Lee Myung-bak, who has been serving a 17-year sentence for embezzlement and bribery since 2018.
There was no discussion about special pardons, according to Chang.
Chang said he and Lee Cheol-hee, senior presidential secretary for political affairs, will continue to discuss the personnel appointment issue.
The president gave a necktie to Yoon and said he hopes for his "utmost success," asked Yoon to contact him at any time and promised he will help in any way he can.
The two didn't hold separate one-on-one talks. The Blue House didn't give a separate briefing, an indication of successful talks.
Yoon told reporters earlier Monday that there was "no special agenda" set for the meeting but that "the livelihoods of the people and security issues could come up."
Kim Eun-hye, Yoon's spokesperson, also said in a briefing Monday morning, "I think the issue of Covid-19 relief would be dealt with most urgently above everything else."
Yoon has pushed for an additional supplementary budget of 50 trillion won ($40.7 billion) for Covid-19 recovery. The Moon government has not been keen on approving of any additional budget in its remaining weeks.
In a meeting with his aides Monday, just hours before the meeting with Yoon, Moon stressed the need for the incoming government to succeed and build upon the achievements of the previous administration.
"The present is history that has been accumulated from the past, and the Republic of Korea has advanced constantly in the midst of hardships and the ups and downs of its modern history," Moon said. "This is the result of successive governments inheriting the achievements of previous governments, supplementing their deficiencies, and developing upon them."
A one-on-one luncheon scheduled for March 16 was cancelled at the last minute after Moon and Yoon's teams failed to set an agenda in preparatory talks.
The two sides held numerous consultations since last Friday to reschedule talks, and Moon and Yoon's spokesperson announced the newly scheduled date Sunday, with both sides promising "candid dialogue" without a set agenda.
Moon and Yoon last met at the Blue House at an anticorruption meeting in June 2020. Yoon was prosecutor general.
Previously, the longest time it took for a president to meet the president-elect was 18 days in 1992 between President Roh Tae-woo and his successor Kim Young-sam.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]