SEOUL - South Korean President Moon Jae-in has voiced hopes that the incoming administration of United States President-elect Joe Biden will resume stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, so as to "make new strides" and carry forward the agreement signed between the two countries in Singapore.
Speaking at a New Year press conference on Monday (Jan 18), the dovish leader also pledged to strengthen partnership with the US and improve inter-Korea ties, so that he can continue to play the role of a mediator and make sure that North Korea's nuclear issue remains a priority for the new US leadership.
"The inauguration of the Biden administration could be a turning point for restarting US-North Korea dialogue and inter-Korea talks and capitalise on achievements made under the Trump administration," President Moon said.
Outgoing US President Donald Trump had met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un three times and signed the so-called Singapore Declaration during their first summit in 2018, agreeing to "work towards complete denuclearisation".
Mr Moon lamented it was "regrettable" that the declaration did not lead to more concrete disarmament steps as dialogue has stalled since the second round of Trump-Kim talks broke down in Hanoi in early 2019.
"If we can restart talks from the Singapore Declaration and seek more concrete details during negotiations, dialogue can pick up speed," he said.
Given the stalemate, North Korea has reverted to a defiant stance, demanding that the US withdraw its hostile policy towards Pyongyang.
The regime has also cut South Korea off, after failing to pressure Seoul into lifting sanctions unilaterally.
Although North Korea made it clear during its party congress earlier this month that it will continue to strengthen its nuclear arsenal, Mr Moon argued that this was "a result of the deadlock in negotiations" and can be resolved if the talks resume.
He reiterated a willingness to "meet Chairman Kim any time, anywhere", in person or online. The two leaders have met four times since 2018.
Mr Moon also expressed understanding for North Korea's sensitivity regarding South Korea's joint military exercises with the US, and with one coming up in March, he said the two Koreas can discuss this issue through a military committee.
Large-scale war games were cancelled from 2018 under Mr Trump's orders as a goodwill gesture towards the North. It remains to be seen if the new Biden administration, given its emphasis on boosting alliances, may seek resumption of the drills.
Mr Moon seems to believe that the Biden administration would do the right thing when it comes to North Korea.
He noted that Mr Biden is well versed in North Korean issues and had supported the South's pro-engagement Sunshine Policy of the 1990s to early 2000s under the late President Kim Dae-jung.
Mr Moon also said the new US leader is more likely to adopt a bottom-up approach towards North Korea, as opposed to Mr Trump's top-down approach. This would mean starting with working-level talks instead of jumping straight into a summit between leaders.
Still, the South Korean President hopes that summit meetings can "resume at the earliest time to build trust between the US and North Korea".
"The Biden administration may be faced with a slew of challenges and it's not going to be easy because of Covid-19, but... they also realise the need to make new strides on the North Korea issue," he said.
Mr Moon will seek to "strengthen partnership with the US to make the North Korea issue a priority" during the rest of his term that will end in May 2022.
The two-hour media session also saw the President fielding questions about diplomacy with China and Japan, as well as domestic issues and South Korea's fight against the coronavirus.
He stressed the need to find a diplomatic resolution to differences with Japan over wartime forced labour, instead of seizing the assets of Japanese companies that refuse to compensate victims as ordered by South Korean courts.
He also emphasised the importance of cooperation with China, South Korea's largest trade partner, adding that "a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping is something that we will still pursue", after plans were shelved last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.