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Moon, entering final year, pledges last-ditch efforts to revive NK diplomacy

President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Cheong Wa Dae)
President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Cheong Wa Dae)

President Moon Jae-in on Monday said he would not be pressed by time in reviving the collapsed diplomacy with North Korea but pledged last-ditch efforts to make a breakthrough in the remaining year of his presidency.

“If there is a will, there is a way. It is the aspiration of 80 million Koreans to end the era of confrontation and conflict on the Korean Peninsula and usher in an era of peace and prosperity,” the president said in a speech marking his fourth year in office. His term ends on May 10, 2022.

“The time for long deliberations is coming to an end. It is time to take action.”

The remark comes as the president is set to hold a crucial summit with US President Joe Biden in Washington on May 21. North Korea, among other things, is expected to top the agenda during their first face-to-face meeting.

Despite earlier speculations that the two governments may have some discrepancies in dealing with the North Korea issue, Washington’s new policy direction seems to align with Seoul’s strategy as it aims to seek a more practical and gradual approach by building upon the Singapore Declaration in 2018.

Moon also welcomed the new US strategy as the result of close consultations between the two governments, pinning high hopes on next week’s summit talks in reviving diplomacy between the two Koreas and the US and North Korea.

“I’ll not be pressed by time or becoming impatient during the remainder of my term. However, if there is an opportunity to restart the clock of peace and advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, I’ll do everything I can,” he said.

“I look forward to North Korea responding positively. I hope that we will be able to build peace and move toward prosperity together. We have seen clear potential for issues to be solved diplomatically.”

He also called for the people’s cooperation in creating a peaceful mood on the Korean Peninsula, warning of stern actions against illegal activities that violate inter-Korean agreements and current laws. He was referring to the continued sending of anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets to North Korea by some civic groups, which has led to vehement protests from North Korea.

During the 20-minute speech and a brief press conference that followed, the president recounted his eventful four years as president. He thanked the people for coming together when facing a crisis, from North Korea’s nuclear threats in the early days of his tenure in 2017 to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked what he regrets the most over the past four years, the president picked his government’s failed housing policy.

“There is no excuse. I failed to achieve the goal of containing housing prices and was slapped with a harsh punishment in the by-elections,” he said. “We will do a thorough review of the current policies, making adjustments to better reflect the market situations, especially reducing burdens for first-time home buyers.”

He also hinted at a more flexible approach to using his pardoning power amid growing calls for clemency for Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong who is serving jail time on bribery charges.

“Amid the fierce competition in the chip industry, it’s a time for us to further strengthen our competitiveness. At the same time, I cannot help but consider fairness, past cases and the people’s consensus,” he said. “Granting a pardon is the president’s discretion but I cannot wield the power on my own will. I’ll fully listen to what people say.”

He seemed still cautious about granting a pardon to the imprisoned former presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, citing divided public opinions.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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