South Korea’s Moon Jae-in vowed to make another push for peace in his final months as president, despite fresh signs that Kim Jong Un has little interest in reciprocating.
Moon used his last new year address as South Korea’s leader to press for a cause that has defined his political career. The former democracy campaigner and son of wartime refugees from North Korea is slated to leave office in May having made little progress in the peace process since signing a pair of landmark agreements with Kim in 2018.
“All Koreans have long aspirated peace, prosperity and unification,” Moon said. “I will continue to make efforts to institutionalize sustainable peace, and I won’t stop that until the end of my term.”
Moon saw his role as an intermediary between Washington and Pyongyang diminish after he helped broker the first summit between Kim and then-President Donald Trump more than three years ago in Singapore. The South Korean president has long advocated an end-of-war declaration as a way to ease North Korean suspicions that America’s goal is to remove Kim from power.
Trump rejected Kim’s demands to lift sanctions and walked away from their second summit in Hanoi in February 2019. Pyongyang, in turn, has rebuffed Moon’s attempts at rapprochement, labeled him meddlesome and in June 2020 destroyed the $15 million inter-Korean liaison office that had been the most visible symbol of Moon’s quest for warmer ties.
Kim offered no clear overtures to Moon or U.S. President Joe Biden during a Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang last week, according to a dispatch Saturday from the official Korean Central News Agency.
“It is true that we still have a long way to go.” Moon said, arguing that, “if we talk again and cooperate, the international community will also respond. Our government, if given the opportunity, will seek a path for the normalization of inter-Korean relations and the irreversible peace.”
Moon said he hoped to see the country’s next leader and would continue to seek talks. While ruling party candidate Lee Jae-myung has endorsed Moon’s rapprochement efforts, opposition president candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, a former chief prosecutor under Moon, has advocated a tougher line against Pyongyang.
Moon has repeatedly argued that officially declaring an end to the 1950-53 conflict is the first step toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The South Korean president Monday didn’t directly mention his proposal for the war-end declaration in his speech.
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