Biden’s pick of special representative to N. Korea means request for dialogue: Moon

May 26, 2021

President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday the Joe Biden administration has made a de facto offer to North Korea for the resumption of talks with the appointment of a special representative.

Moon also stressed that South Korea and the United States have formed a “firm consensus” on the need to advance the Korea peace process.

He called it one of the most important accomplishments in his White House summit with Biden last week, speaking to the leaders of South Korea’s five major political parties.

In an announcement, timed with Moon’s visit to the U.S., Biden unveiled the choice of Sung Kim, ambassador to Indonesia, as special representative to North Korea.

The move is “like making a request for North Korea to resume dialogue,” Moon said during the luncheon meeting at Cheong Wa Dae meant for a briefing on the results of his summit with Biden.

President Moon Jae-in (2nd from L) delivers opening remarks during a meeting with the heads of South Korea’s major political parties at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on May 26, 2021. (Yonhap)

The president took note of his joint statement with Biden, in which they agreed that both the 2018 inter-Korean summit accord, signed at Panmunjom, and the Washington-Pyongyang summit agreement in Singapore are “essential” for the denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the peninsula.

It lays the groundwork for the resumption of talks involving North Korea and the “peace clock” to move again on the basis of existing agreements, he added.

Moon also cited the summit deal to terminate the allies’ “missile guidelines,” describing it as a demonstration of “the robustness of the alliance.” Four-decade-long restrictions on the range of South Korea’s missiles have been scrapped with the accord, which should spur the nation’s space program.

Through the meeting with Biden, Moon said he has confirmed again that the Seoul-Washington relationship is incessantly developing as a “comprehensive” alliance to cover not just security but also such issues as the economy, COVID-19 vaccines, advanced technologies and climate change.

Regarding the U.S. decision to provide all the 550,000 South Korean troops with vaccinations, Moon said it represents a “meaningful gift” based on its respect for the alliance.

Moon requested local political parties’ support for the implementation of summit agreements.

The party chiefs invited to the meeting were Song Young-gil of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), Kim Gi-hyeon of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), Yeo Young-kug of the Justice Party, Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party and Choi Kang-wook of the Open Democratic Party.

Kim, acting chief and floor leader of the PPP, said it was “fortunate” that vaccines have been secured for the service members.

However, it is “very regrettable” that a vaccine swap was not reached, he said, adding South Korea is still slow in procuring various types of coronavirus vaccines. What the people want is not a message of “ambiguous hope” but a “reliable” timetable on when they can get the shots of vaccines they choose and take off masks, Kim said.

He demanded that the government make “grand changes” in overall economic policies, including those on job creation, real estate and nuclear energy use.

Moon and Biden agreed that the two sides will develop cooperation in overseas nuclear energy markets and work together to improve the human rights situation in North Korea, Kim noted.

He called on the Moon administration to halt its campaign to phase out South Korea’s use of nuclear energy in order to faithfully carry out the summit agreement, and to abolish a law on banning the sending of anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border.

The DP head, meanwhile, raised the need for constant efforts to set a specific deadline to regain operational control (OPCON) of South Korean troops from the U.S. in the event of a war. The allies have a deal on a “conditions-based” transition of the OPCON.

It remains unclear when such conditions to be decided by the U.S. will be attained, Song pointed out.

South Korea handed over its OPCON to the U.S.-led U.N. troops shortly after the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War. While peacetime OPCON was transferred in 1994, wartime OPCON is still in the hands of the top commander of American forces stationed here.

In response, Moon recalled his summit agreement with Biden reaffirming their “firm commitment to a conditions-based transition” of OPCON, a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters.

The president vowed efforts for South Korea to meet the conditions, according to the official.

Moon dismissed concern about potential impact on Seoul’s ties with Beijing from his summit with Biden, in which they touched on the sensitive issue of the Taiwan Strait. Some observers say that China may be displeased with the allies’ deal on terminating the missile guidelines.

Moon was quoted as telling the party leaders that his government is in “communication” with China with regard to what was agreed upon in the summit.

He added that Seoul will push for President Xi Jinping to make a postponed visit here once the COVID-19 situation is stabilized.

The Cheong Wa Dae session marked Moon’s first group meeting with the leaders of the ruling and opposition parties in one year and three months.