Moon says Yoon could regret 'pre-emptive strike' remark
"One day, the new government will have to restore dialogue with North Korea," Moon said in an exclusive interview about his five years in office with veteran journalist Sohn Suk-hee aired by broadcaster JTBC Tuesday.
"You have to keep in mind that a single word can make or break dialogue or escalate tensions. It is probably because President-elect Yoon has no experience dealing with North Korea or engaging in diplomacy."
During the presidential campaign in January, Yoon suggested a "pre-emptive strike" against North Korea might be needed as a response to its hypersonic missiles. Yoon also said he planned to teach "rude boy" North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "some manners."
In the interview, which was the second of two parts, Moon advised, "The candidate mode and the president mode should be different. He needs to go into the president mode soon."
When asked if there was backpedaling in his peace initiative on the Korean Peninsula as seen in a rise in tensions with the North, Moon responded, "Then where did the past five years of peace go? […] It may be regrettable that progress [in inter-Korean relations] has not been achieved, but it is not something to be criticized."
Moon noted that there was "not a single military conflict with North Korea" during the liberal Roh Moo-hyun and Moon administrations, while the sinking of South Korea's Cheonan warship, the shelling of the Yeonpyeong Island and other military clashes happened during the conservative Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations. He added, "Yet progressives are labeled as being incompetent in security issues."
Regarding the issue of whether South Korea should obtain nuclear weapons, he said, "Physically, it is possible because we have the technology, but in reality, it is impossible. It could result in a Domino effect of nuclear proliferation in the Northeast Asian region." It would also jeopardize the Seoul-Washington alliance, he said.
He said the biggest challenge he faced came in the beginning of his administration with the "fire and fury" verbal attacks between North Korea and the United States in 2017.
Moon said he views former U.S. President Donald Trump "positively" from the perspective of bilateral relations with Seoul, regardless of his reputation in the United States. Trump favored a top-down approach to negotiations with Pyongyang, resulting in a historic first North Korea-U.S. summit in Singapore in June 2018, and a follow-up summit in Hanoi in February 2019.
One hurdle in U.S. relations, said Moon, was Trump's demands to raise South Korea's defense cost-sharing by five times, which Moon refused. Moon said Trump didn't take this "emotionally" and accepted that each had their position as the elected leader of a country, "and didn't mix the problem with other issues."
Moon refrained from giving his views of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying, "now is not a good time" to comment. He pointed out that North Korea's launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last month "clearly crossed the red line and could be a signal to end dialogue."
However, he said, "It is still is not clear whether this will lead to a complete severing of talks" and urged the Yoon government to "make efforts to restore dialogue in close cooperation with the United States," to ensure that the North returns to negotiations "as soon as possible."
Moon was also critical of Yoon's decision to move the presidential office to the Defense Ministry compound in Yongsan District, central Seoul and said, "Personally, I don't think it's worth it."
He said that public opinion is not clear on the issue, and remarked, "It is really dangerous to push things like this."
Moon himself as a candidate in 2017 pledged to relocate the presidential office to the government complex in nearby Gwanghwamun, but said he did not regret his decision to stay in the Blue House. He said he was a more approachable president than his predecessors and also opened up the mountain area around the Blue House to the public, which had been off-limits for decades due to security reasons.
Yoon's transition team shot back Wednesday that Moon should just focus on his duties in his remaining time in office.
Bae Hyun-jin, Yoon's spokesperson, said during a press briefing, "As a president without much time left until his retirement, we request that he takes an interest in the people and defending constitutional values and concentrate on his duties."
She stressed that Yoon and Moon discussed the Yongsan relocation plan during their meeting at the Blue House last month.
Moon's term comes to an end on May 9. He will attend Yoon's inauguration ceremony the following day. Then, he and his wife Kim Jung-sook will move to a newly-built home in Pyeongsan Village in his hometown of Yangsan in South Gyeongsang, where he will take time to "recharge," enjoy good food, take care of his garden and take hikes.
When asked what he wants his legacy to be in the JTBC interview, Moon said, "It would be the greatest honor if I could be remembered as a president who succeeded in overcoming crises and helped [the Republic of Korea] leap forward as a leading country."
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]