Asia Pacific / Politics

South Korean presidential contender Moon says he's open to direct talks with North's Kim

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

Moon Jae-in, a top contender for South Korea’s May 9 presidential election, has vowed to speak directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if elected to resolve surging tensions on the peninsula, he told a local newspaper Monday.

Speaking to The Korea Herald, Moon said Seoul had been relegated to “spectator” status on the North Korean issue as U.S. President Donald Trump weighed his options for confronting the nation over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

“We must recognize (Kim Jong-un) as North Korea’s leader, and if we are to resolve the nuclear issue we must negotiate (with Kim),” Moon was quoted as saying.

Moon called Trump a “savvy businessman” but expressed concerns over his administration’s hard-line stance against Pyongyang.

The U.S. rerouted an Australia-bound aircraft carrier strike group Saturday to waters off the Korean Peninsula in an apparent show of force ahead of key anniversaries the North is set to mark this month. The regime is likely to use the event to flaunt its military might, possibly with its sixth nuclear test or a military parade showcasing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The Trump administration has said that all options — including military action — are on the table. This stance has unnerved Seoul, which has played down the possibility of unilateral strikes on the North, saying any such decision would be not be taken without “close cooperation.”

In the interview, Moon voiced displeasure with South Korea having been “totally sidelined” throughout the process by the U.S. and China.

“The issue of the Korean Peninsula is our problem, and we are directly involved in the North Korean nuclear issue,” he said. “I feel that we should take the lead. At present, we are spectators.”

Under the administration of Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, the U.S. had ruled out talking with the North until it committed to giving up its nuclear weapons. Trump had ordered a review of U.S. policy toward the North, which reports said was complete, but it was unclear if a return to talks was an option for Washington. This, however, appeared doubtful considering the U.S. leader’s increasingly hard-line approach to Pyongyang.

Moon is the nominee for the left-leaning Democratic Party, which has traditionally taken a softer approach toward North Korea. His election rivals have taken tougher stances toward Kim’s regime.