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Unification minister denies Olympics central to ‘end-of-war declaration’

Unification Minister Lee In-young speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Unification Minister Lee In-young speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Unification Minister Lee In-young on Wednesday denied speculation that Seoul is seeking to declare a formal end to the Korean War in time for the upcoming Beijing Olympics, amid concerns that a possible US boycott of the games would dash Seoul’s hopes for diplomacy with Pyongyang.

“The end-of-war declaration is not necessarily aimed at the Beijing Olympics,” Lee told reporters during a press conference in Seoul, stressing that the two are separate issues. “We do hope the Beijing Winter Olympics become an Olympics of Peace, but I hope you don’t think that what happens with the Beijing Olympics will affect the end-of-war declaration.”

The Moon Jae-in administration has been eyeing the Beijing Winter Olympics, scheduled for February, as a possible venue to restart the stalled nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang. Some say the US, China and the two Koreas might use the occasion to declare a formal end to the Korean War. But with the US mulling whether to boycott the games over human rights violations, concerns are rising that Seoul’s peace initiative could face a setback.

A senior ministry official later clarified that it would be best to sign an end-of-war declaration before the Olympics, as Seoul and Washington are in the final stages of discussing Seoul’s proposal.

The official added that when working-level talks between the allies wrap up, Seoul will propose the idea to Pyongyang, though he declined to disclose further details such as when and how the ministry planned to contact the North.

There have been several high-level discussions between Seoul and Washington officials in recent months, following up on President Moon’s renewed push for an end-of-war declaration as a last-ditch effort to induce Pyongyang back to talks before he leaves office next May.

The Korean War concluded not in a peace treaty, but in an armistice agreement signed by the US-led United Nations Command, China and North Korea, meaning the two Koreas are technically still at war after seven decades.

With only six months left in Moon’s five-year tenure, the minister urged the next administration to continue the current government’s efforts to make progress on peace on the peninsula.

“The task of peace and unification on the peninsula is a long-term journey, which is difficult to complete from start to finish within a single term,” he said, describing the process as a baton handoff at a relay.

Lee also raised hope for reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, whether that be face-to-face or via video links, in time for the next Lunar New Year, calling on Pyongyang to respond positively to Seoul’s efforts.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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