SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — New South Korean President Moon Jae-in said as he took office today that he is open to visiting rival North Korea under the right conditions to talk about its aggressive pursuit of nuclear-tipped missiles.
Moon’s softer stance on North Korea could create friction with Washington, which has swung from threats of military action to hints of dialogue as it seeks to formulate a policy under President Donald Trump.
South Korea’s first liberal leader in a decade, Moon also said he’ll “sincerely negotiate” with the United States, Seoul’s top ally, and China, South Korea’s top trading partner, over the contentious deployment of an advanced U.S. missile-defense system in southern South Korea. The system has angered Beijing, which says its powerful radars allow Washington to spy on its own military operations.
In a speech at the National Assembly, Moon pledged to work for peace on the Korean Peninsula amid growing worry over the North’s expanding nuclear weapons and missiles program.
“I will quickly move to solve the crisis in national security. I am willing to go anywhere for the peace of the Korean Peninsula — if needed, I will fly immediately to Washington. I will go to Beijing and I will go to Tokyo. If the conditions shape up, I will go to Pyongyang,” Moon said.
Moon assumed presidential duties early in the morning after the National Election Commission finished counting Tuesday’s votes and declared him winner of the special election necessitated by the ousting of conservative Park Geun-hye, whose downfall and jailing on corruption charges is one of the most turbulent stretches in the nation’s recent political history.
At his first news conference at the presidential Blue House, Moon introduced his nominees for prime minister, the country’s spy chief and his presidential chief of staff. The usual circumstances of the election and immediate transition into office meant Moon inherited several officials from Park’s government, and he has moved quickly to replace them.
In his earlier speech at the National Assembly, Moon thanked the millions of South Koreans who peacefully protested for months seeking the ouster of Park, who was impeached and arrested in March and faces a trial later this month that could send her to prison for life if she is convicted. Moon also offered a message of unity to his political rivals — Moon’s Democratic Party has only 120 out of 300 seats in the National Assembly, so he may need broader support while pushing his key policies.
“Politics were turbulent (in the past several months), but our people showed greatness,” Moon said.