|President Park Geun-hye presides over a weekly Cabinet meeting in a video conference room at Cheong Wa Dae that simultaneously connects Prime Minister Chung Hong-won (on right screen) and ministers in Sejong City on Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)|
President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday expressed regret over the National Assembly delaying the ratification of a bill aimed at strengthening the security of fissile material and preventing nuclear terrorism, stressing it would hurt the international community’s confidence in Korea.
Korea, which was the host of the second Nuclear Security Summit in 2012, vowed to ratify a bill protecting atomic facilities and preventing nuclear terrorism before the third summit, to be held next week in the Netherlands.
If the parliament fails to pass the bill before the president leaves for the summit, it would frustrate the country’s efforts in making the world a safer place without nuclear weapons, officials said.
But the bill remains stalled at the National Assembly. The ruling Saenuri Party has urged the opposition parties to cooperate to pass the bill during an extraordinary meeting to be convened Thursday. But the main opposition Democratic Party said it would help pass the bill only if the ruling party agreed to approve other bills including a revision to the law on broadcasting.
“It is truly regrettable that the National Assembly is holding this bill back while linking it to another bill,” Park said during a weekly Cabinet meeting.
“It would hurt the country’s credibility if we fail to keep our promise in regards to nuclear security, let alone taking the lead ahead of others,” Park said, adding that the ratification of the bill was crucial at a time when the world was paying attention to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
The president also urged the parliament to ratify an agreement with the United States to share the cost of American troops in South Korea.
Seoul and Washington have renewed the Special Measure Agreement on sharing the cost. South Korea agreed to pay 920 billion won ($867 million) this year to cover an increased amount of the upkeep of the U.S. troops stationed in the country.
The ratification of the agreement has been delayed at the Assembly, with opposition lawmakers criticizing the government’s decision to pay for a bigger share of the costs than before. The delay of the bill also raised concerns that Korean employees of the U.S. Forces Korea would go unpaid.
“If things go haywire, our employees working for the U.S. military won’t get paid, and related small- and medium-sized companies would halt operations,” Park said.
“The fall of national credibility is inevitable. Politics should never damage the people’s livelihood,” she added.
The main opposition Democratic Party laid the blame at the feet of “the incompetent government and the irresponsible Saenuri Party.”
“(I) once again suggest a one-shot, one-point National Assembly session to process pending motions along with people’s livelihood bills,” DP floor leader Rep. Jun Byung-hun said, stressing that the DP was willing to cooperate “in consideration of the government’s position.”
Jun also accused the ruling party of deceiving the public by attempting to hold a unilateral National Assembly session solely to process the nuclear protection act.
By Cho Chung-un and Choi He-suk