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Yoon says any meetings with NK leader should be for ‘tangible’ results

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol (Yonhap)
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol (Yonhap)

South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has said he is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but any talks should be made only when they would produce tangible results on the North‘s denuclearization or cross-border exchanges.

“There is no reason to shun meetings (with Kim). But if such meetings are only for show and fail to make practical results on the denuclearization and our economic assistance to the North, they will not be helpful for denuclearizing the North and advancing the inter-Korean relationship,” Yoon said in a recent interview with the Voice of America reported Saturday.

Asked about any preconditions for a possible summit with Kim, Yoon said they would be set via working-level consultations with Pyongyang.

Yoon, however, pointed to the need to boost inter-Korean exchanges in the cultural and sports fields “as Korean people.”

“It is crucial to send consistent signals and messages to the North (with regards to its nuclear programs). ... We will review and prepare for programs designed to significantly improve North Korea’s economic situation, which will be implemented when North Korea takes irreversible denuclearization steps,” he added.

President Moon Jae-in and Kim held three rounds of summits in 2018, but inter-Korean relations have chilled and the Korea peace process has stalled since the no-deal end of the 2019 Hanoi summit between Kim and then U.S. President Donald Trump.

As for the envisioned transfer of the wartime operational control (OPCON) of the Korean troops from Washington to Seoul, Yoon said South Korea is not fully prepared in terms of surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

“Who takes the command should be decided based on the most effective ways of winning a war, not for any causes or ideologies,”

Yoon said, stressing the need to advance the country‘s defense system against North Korean missiles.

The current Moon Jae-in government sought to retake OPCON at an early date, though no specific timeframe has been set as it is conditions-based, not time-based. There have been delays in due procedures for the transfer over the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues.

The mutually agreed-upon conditions include Seoul’s capabilities to lead South Korea-U.S. combined forces, its strike and air defense capabilities, and a regional security environment conducive to the handover.

Speaking of the upcoming summit with U.S. President Joe Biden, Yoon said the two sides would discuss South Korea‘s envisioned participation in broader agendas within the framework of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).

The U.S.-led security partnership involves Australia, Japan and India, and is widely seen as a forum aimed at countering China’s rise. Yoon has said he will positively review joining the group if his country is invited.

“It has been 69 years since the formation of the Korea-U.S. alliance. ... Now the notion of security should not only be for military goals but be developed into a comprehensive one to cover the economy, advanced technologies, supply chains, climate change and health care,” he added.

The conservative former top prosecutor is set to be sworn in Tuesday amid heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea has carried out a serious of ballistic missile tests, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, and there have been signs of Pyongyang‘s preparations for another nuclear test.

Jalina Porter, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, said Friday that North Korea is preparing its Punggye-ri nuclear test site and could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month. (Yonhap)
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