|South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during his New Year press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. AP-Yonhap|
South Korean leader hints at seeking exemption from US sanctions
By Do Je-hae
President Moon Jae-in said during a New Year press conference at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday, that he remains positive about the U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks as the leaders of the two countries are still open for dialogue.
The South Korean leader also cited the need to apply for a partial exemption to U.N. sanctions for more engagement with North Korea and to move the U.S.-North Korea negotiations forward.
Despite the deadlock between Pyongyang and Washington, Moon stressed a positive outlook, defying the mounting concerns that the past two years of talks between the two foes in the Korean War will ultimately fail to end North Korea's nuclear programs.
"Regarding the South-North or North Korea-U.S. talks, it is neither time to be optimistic or pessimistic," Moons said.
He acknowledged the controversy regarding U.S. President Donald Trump's birthday message to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. "When my national security adviser Chung Eui-yong visited the U.S. for a Korea-U.S.-Japan security meeting, President Trump called in Chung unannounced and asked him to deliver the birthday wishes. President Trump must have thought that this was not enough, so he also sent a letter to Kim," Moon said.
"I think this is a very positive development. It was a very good idea to stress the resolution for dialogue by sending the congratulatory message. Upon receiving the letter, North Korea also reiterated the close relationship between the two leaders and made it clear that it had not closed the door completely on dialogue, although it did attach a precondition that its demands must be met."
|President Moon's 2020 New Year press conference / Yonhap|
"At the time of the letter, the U.S. was facing a lot of complex situations, including the conflict with Iran, and the fact Trump sent Kim a birthday message means that President Trump still regards North Korea as the most important issue on his diplomatic agenda."
The President repeated his stance on promoting active engagement with North Korea this year, which was contained in his New Year address delivered last week. In this regard, the South Korean leader mentioned the need to ease some of the U.N. sanctions imposed on the reclusive regime.
"I believe we can make efforts for exceptions from U.N. sanctions if necessary," Moon said. "Rather than looking just at U.S.-North Korea talks, we should do as much as we can to expand inter-Korean cooperation. This will also be helpful in promoting U.S.-North Korea dialogue."
He mentioned sports and tourism exchanges as well as starting cooperation at the inter-Korean border as some of the ways to expand inter-Korean cooperation within the boundaries of the sanctions.
Moon called on the U.S. to consider a different approach from its focus on sanctions. "The U.S. needs to continuously seek new ideas, in close cooperation with South Korea, for a breakthrough in the U.S.-North Korea talks," the President said.
He showed a negative response to criticism that his recent call for expediting engagement with North Korea was being snubbed by Pyongyang. "In inter-Korean diplomacy, there is much more than what is actually visible.
"Inter-Korean relations are facing difficulties as they coincide with the stalemate in the North-U.S. dialogue, but I am pushing forward with an optimistic view that efforts to work together through dialogue are continuing and can produce good results."
Concerns have been rising about the health of Korea-U.S. alliance due to complex bilateral issues, such as the defense cost-sharing negotiations and the U.S pressure on Korea to join its naval mission in the Strait of Hormuz. Moon sought to assuage these concerns by underlining that the Korea-U.S. alliance remains "stronger than ever with close communication and cooperation."
|South Korean President Moon Jae-in smiles as reporters raise their hands for questions during his New Year press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. AP-Yonhap|
"Close communication and cooperation have led to the improvement of inter-Korean relations and resulted in U.S.-North Korea dialogue," Moon added. "Looking back at 2017 at the height of the crisis on the Korean Peninsula following Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests, I had three summits with President Trump and talked on the phone with him seven times. Through these, we came to a decision to postpone a joint Korea-U.S. military exercise to pave the way for North Korea's participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. After this, inter-Korean dialogue began, which led to the talks between North Korea and the U.S."
Currently, the biggest issue between Korea and the U.S. is the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) negotiations to determine Korea's share of costs for maintaining U.S. troops here and the possible dispatch of a Korean naval unit to the Strait of Hormuz to joining a U.S.-led mission.
"Regarding the Hormuz question, there are complex factors to be considered. We need to think about our alliance with the U.S. as well as our relations with Iran. We will take all of these into consideration as we look for a realistic solution."
On the defense costs, Moon stressed the need for an "equitable share." "This is the only way it will be approved by the people and the National Assembly," he noted.