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Moon says denuclearization talks still open, too early for pessimism

Moon urges Japan to offer solutions for forced labor issue

President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday that hope remains for the denuclearization of North Korea and resolving the current Seoul-Tokyo discord.

Speaking at a New Year’s press conference, Moon said that both North Korea and the US have shown they are open to dialogue. He expressed hopes for renewed momentum, saying prolonging the current deadlock would be detrimental to the process. 

President Moon Jae-in holds a press conference on Tuesday. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in holds a press conference on Tuesday. Yonhap

“The North-US dialogue is not active, but the trust between President Trump and Chairman Kim, and the efforts to continue dialogue are being maintained,” Moon said, referring to the recent letter from US President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and Pyongyang’s response to the letter.

Last week, it was revealed that Trump sent a letter to Kim conveying birthday wishes to the North Korean leader. Trump had also asked Moon to relay a similar message to the North, according to Seoul’s National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong.

Moon returned to the subject later in the 100-minute press conference, saying that Trump’s letter hints at the importance of the North Korean issue.

“President Trump sending a birthday message to Chairman Kim despite domestic US issues, and Iran and other complex issues, shows that the US, or President Trump, still considers the North as the most important diplomatic counterpart,” Moon said.

Moon added that the North has not closed off the possibility of dialogue despite its year-end deadline having passed. He played down Pyongyang’s condition that its demands must be met for further talks to take place, calling it a reiteration of North Korea’s position.

“The problem now is that once the US enters the presidential election period, making time for North-US talks could become difficult. So, I don’t think there is much time between the North and the US.”

Regarding sanctions, Moon said the goal is to facilitate denuclearization, hinting that Seoul is willing to play a role in easing sanctions once conditions are met.

“The goal of sanctions is to bring about North Korea’s denuclearization. So, if North Korea takes practical steps with regards to denuclearization, the US and international society should take corresponding measures, and I think that easing of sanctions could be among such measures,” Moon said, highlighting that sanctions are not in themselves the goal.

Moon said the US-North Korea dialogue has stalled due to the two sides’ failing to balance denuclearization measures the North is willing to take with sanctions relief and other measures the US is willing to give in return.

Underlining that Seoul needs to cooperate with the US, Moon said that improving inter-Korean relations could prove beneficial for denuclearization talks and for North Korea.

“If inter-Korean cooperation is widened as much as possible, it will not only facilitate North-US dialogue, but also be a path to widening international support for partial relief or exemption of sanctions if necessary.”

The South Korean leader also stressed that there is room for the two Koreas to work together within the boundaries of international sanctions, such as cooperation in sports, and that the two sides should maximize opportunities in such areas.

On other foreign relations issues, Moon said that ties with Japan remain amiable, though there are areas of difficulties -- forced labor, trade and military intelligence sharing pact -- while relations with China are on the mend.

“I think that resolving issues that can be resolved relatively easily, such as Japan’s trade measures and GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement), it will aid in recovering trust between the two countries,” Moon said, stressing that his government hopes to improve ties with Japan.

Moon called on Tokyo to work with Seoul, saying that his government, the South Korean parliament and civic society have proposed possible solutions for the compensation of those forced into working for Japanese firms during Japan’s occupation of the peninsula.

He said that Tokyo should also suggest solutions so that the two sides can cooperate on resolving the issue, though any solution must have the support of the victims.

“If the Japanese government draws up a plan while bearing in mind that it is a solution that can be accepted by the victims, I don’t think it will be difficult for the two countries to draw up a solution.”

Regarding domestic issues, questions mainly focused on developments involving the prosecutors’ office and the real estate market.

On the prosecution, Moon said that Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl has won the trust of the public by conducting investigations regardless of those in power, and said that Yoon should now reform his organization to be more transparent.

The president also played down controversy over the recent reshuffle of top prosecutors, saying that the administration manages the prosecution’s human resources and that that right must be respected.

Moon also took the opportunity to reiterate his administration’s determination to bring the housing market under control.

He said that raising the real estate holding tax and lowering taxes of transactions are the right ways to move forward and that the government will roll out measures and revise them to reflect changes in the market.

By Choi He-suk (