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South Korea Seeks Early Biden Summit to Revive Talks With Kim

Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, watches an honor guard before his departure to North Korea at the railway station in Vladivostok, Russia, on Friday, April 26, 2019. Kim said the summit will be a “starting point for productive talks on cooperation,” Vesti TV reported him as saying in an interview. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, watches an honor guard before his departure to North Korea at the railway station in Vladivostok, Russia, on Friday, April 26, 2019. Kim said the summit will be a “starting point for productive talks on cooperation,” Vesti TV reported him as saying in an interview. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) — South Korea’s Moon Jae-in said he would push for an early summit with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to revive nuclear talks stalled for much of the past two years.

The South Korean president told his annual new year’s news conference Monday that he wanted to work with the incoming U.S. administration to “reaffirm our consensus on the peace process in the the Korean Peninsula.” Moon said he hoped the former vice president’s entry to the White House could be a turning point for relations with Kim Jong Un.

“Biden is an expert on diplomacy,” Moon told reporters, noting that the president-elect had supported previous efforts to improve ties between Seoul and Pyongyang. “I believe that the North Korean issue will still be a diplomatic priority for the Biden administration.”

Moon — a long-time supporter of reconciliation with his country’s rival to the north — gave a characteristically upbeat assessment of the dispute. He continued to express hope for improved ties, despite Kim’s decision last year to blow up a liaison office built by Seoul and return to nuclear saber-rattling.

During party meetings in Pyongyang last week, Kim reaffirmed the U.S.’s status as his “biggest main enemy” and blamed Seoul’s military activities for strained relations. He unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile and outlined plans for a nuclear upgrade that experts said would likely require a provocative weapons-testing campaign.

Moon said Monday that he hoped Biden would retain the agreement Kim signed with U.S. President Donald Trump at their first historic meeting in Singapore in June 2018. While Kim made a vague commitment to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” talks between the two sides have since achieved little and Trump walked out of his last formal summit with Kim in February 2019 without a deal.

“If we start again from the Singapore Declaration, and carry out dialogue and negotiations to achieve a more specific plan, then we would be able to speed up the dialogue between the two Koreas, as well as the U.S. and North Korea,” Moon said. He urged “step-by-step” measures to build trust between the two sides.

The Biden administration has indicated it may be ready to ease sanctions in exchange for steps by Kim to freeze, cap and wind down his atomic arsenal. That could help Kim fix an economy that has only gotten smaller since he took power about a decade ago.

The news conference was only Moon’s fifth such event since taking power in May 2017. The president is facing mounting political pressure at home, with his poll numbers near record lows and time running out on his single five-year term in office.

The South Korean president’s popularity has slumped amid a standoff between his justice minister and his chief prosecutor over investigations into scandals in his administration. He’s also faced criticism over his struggles to address a new wave of coronavirus cases and economic issues driving inequality such as home prices.

At his news conference, Moon also:

  • Pledged “extraordinary” housing supply measures before the Lunar New Year holiday. He said actions would exceed market expectations.
  • Defended the pace of coronavirus vaccinations, saying inoculations may begin in late February or early March.
  • Predicted the population would reach herd immunity by November.
  • Rejected calls to grant clemency to former conservative Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, who are serving prison terms for corruption. Moon left open the door to actions at a later date.
  • Expressed a desire to reschedule a postponed visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
  • Advocated a diplomatic resolution to South Korea’s dispute with Japan over wartime forced labor. He said he hoped that a solution could come before South Korean courts liquidate Japanese corporate assets to compensate victims.

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