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Ex-national security adviser tapped as top diplomat amid stalled NK diplomacy

Chung Eui-yong (Yonhap)
Chung Eui-yong (Yonhap)

Chung Eui-yong, President Moon Jae-in's pick for foreign minister, is known for his role as national security adviser in spearheading Moon's engagement policy for North Korea that led to the first-ever summit between the United States and North Korea.

Chung's nomination, announced just ahead of the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, is seen as reflecting Moon's will to revive his peace drive and help resume the nuclear diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang in his remaining time in office.

"I think it's my last chance to serve the country. I take this nomination as a candidate for public office with a humble and solemn heart," Chung said in a message sent to media following the announcement.

"If confirmed, I will do my utmost so that the foreign policy pursued by the Moon Jae-in government can bear fruit and the Korean Peninsula peace process can take root," he said.

Moon said in a press event on Monday that he hopes the stalled nuclear dialogue with North Korea will pick up from the Singapore Declaration, referring to the agreement from the first summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in June 2018.

Chung is known for playing a key role in brokering the Trump-Kim summit.

Amid a peace mood created following a North Korean delegation's visit to the South for the Winter Olympics, Chung traveled to Pyongyang as a special envoy of Moon and met with Kim before flying to Washington to deliver Kim's message to Trump.

But the nuclear talks between the US and the North have stalled after the second summit of Trump and Kim in early 2019 ended without a deal. Subsequent working-level talks took place in Sweden later that year but made little progress.

If confirmed, a primary task for Chung as the top diplomat will likely be about firming up the ties with the new Biden administration, as Seoul seeks to create fresh momentum to resume the nuclear talks and kick-start inter-Korean cooperation.

Aside from North Korea issues, Chung will also be tasked with resolving some pressing diplomatic challenges for Seoul, such as finding a solution to the long-running spat with Japan over wartime history and trade, and breaking the impasse in the defense cost-sharing negotiations with the US

Crafting a detailed policy approach to deal with the escalating rivalry between the US and China will also likely be among his top priorities.

Chung, 74, started off his early career as a diplomat by entering the foreign service in 1972. He built his career with extensive experience in multilateral diplomacy and US affairs, having served in various domestic and overseas positions, including those in the US, Canada, Israel and Thailand.

During his time at the foreign ministry, he also worked at the trade affairs and intelligence analysis departments.

Chung also worked as head of the International Labor Organization council before he entered politics by winning a parliamentary seat in 2004.

After Moon became president, Chung served as the chief of the presidential National Security Office from 2017 until July last year. He has been working since as a special aide to the president for foreign policy and security affairs.

Chung, a Seoul native, graduated from Seoul National University with a degree in diplomacy. (Yonhap)

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