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Spy agency chief nominee Park, champion of inter-Korean reconciliation, cooperation

National Intelligence Service (NIS) director-nominee Park Jie-won (Yonhap)
National Intelligence Service (NIS) director-nominee Park Jie-won (Yonhap)

National Intelligence Service (NIS) director-nominee Park Jie-won is known for his role in arranging the historic first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000 and fostering engagement with North Korea while in government service from the late 1990s to early 2000s.

Park, a former lawmaker of the opposition Party for People's Livelihoods, was a close confidant to late ex-President Kim Dae-jung credited with promoting reconciliation with North Korea through his "sunshine policy," for which Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.

Park, now 78, was a key figure in paving the way for the summit between Kim and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, which produced the June 15 joint declaration on inter-Korean reconciliation, cooperation and exchanges.

President Moon Jae-in's designation of Park as the spy chief signals that he will plow ahead with his drive for inter-Korean cooperation despite tensions caused by the North's recent demolition of a joint liaison office and bellicose rhetoric, observers said.

After his nomination, Park said he would stop any involvement in politics and focus on carrying out "inherent" NIS responsibilities once he is officially appointed.

"I'd like to thank President Moon Jae-in for nominating me and will devote myself to (the NIS work) with patriotism for history, the Republic of Korea and President Moon," he wrote on Facebook.

Park's decadeslong public life has encompassed a wide range of high-profile posts in politics, government and at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

Park, once a businessman in Los Angeles, got his foot into politics after he got to know Kim in the 1970s, when the future president was in exile in the United States.

During Kim's presidency from 1998-2003, Park served as his press secretary, culture minister, senior policy secretary and chief of staff. Park still dubs himself a "perpetual chief of staff to President Kim," an expression that highlights his respect for the late liberal leader.

After the Kim government's term ended, Park faced allegations of illegal money transfers to the North, for which he was slapped with a jail term in 2006. But he returned to politics with a special pardon in 2007.

First elected to the National Assembly for a proportional representation slot in 1992, Park has been elected four times in total. Throughout his life in parliament, he has championed dialogue with the communist regime.

Born on Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, in June 1942, Park graduated from the department of commercial science at Dankook University in 1969. (Yonhap)
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