South Korea President Moon Jae-in stresses ‘desperate need’ to improve ties with North

South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed to keep up work to facilitate the US-North Korea talks. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL - South Korean President Moon Jae-in has stressed the "desperate need" to improve inter-Korea ties and cooperation, adding he is prepared to "meet and talk constantly" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

During a televised New Year's speech on Tuesday (Jan 7), Mr Moon also urged cross-border efforts to make Mr Kim's long-planned trip to Seoul a reality.

The North Korean leader had accepted Mr Moon's invitation to visit "at an early date" after welcoming Mr Moon to Pyongyang in September 2018, but plans were shelved after nuclear talks with the United States broke down in Hanoi in February last year.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Mr Moon - who brokered the first summit between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018 - lamented the lack of progress in negotiations but pledged to do his best to facilitate the resumption of dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.

"During a time of US-North Korea stalemate and growing concerns about a setback in inter-Korean ties, we are in desperate need of realistic solutions to improve inter-Korean cooperation," said Mr Moon.

"The momentum for US-North Korea talks must continue. Provocations and threats are not helpful for anyone."

Concern has grown about the bleak future of inter-Korea ties, after the issue was conspicuously omitted in Mr Kim's policy speech during a key party meeting last week.

Cross-border relations have chilled alongside the US-North Korea nuclear deadlock, as Pyongyang accused Seoul of siding with Washington in maintaining sanctions on the regime and not implementing agreements made during previous Moon-Kim summits.

Pyongyang has also not responded to Seoul's repeated offers for dialogue.

Last week, South Korea's Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul stressed the need for the two Koreas to regain mutual trust and create an environment for cooperation and co-prosperity.

The ministry is also making plans to expand a bureau in charge of cross-border exchanges, in what is deemed a bid to revive stalled ties.

Mr Moon on Tuesday underscored the importance of maintaining peace on the Korean peninsula and creating a virtuous cycle of dialogue.

"Peace on the Korean peninsula is not a matter of choice but a path we must take regardless of the difficulties we must overcome," he said.

The South Korean leader also renewed his commitment to push for the reopening of two shuttered inter-Korea economic projects - Kaesong industrial complex and Mount Kumgang resort - and voiced hope about other cooperation opportunities such as reconnecting inter-Korea roads and railway.

Noting how inter-Korea ties improved after North Korea participated in the 2018 Winter Olympics hosted by the South, Mr Moon also urged sports exchanges to continue in the future.

He said the two Koreas can send a joint team to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, and make a joint bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics. He also welcomed North Korean athletes to join competitions hosted by the South, such as a weightlifting championship to be held in February, and a table tennis event to be held in March.

Mr Moon also suggested that the two Koreas can work together to develop peace zones along their demilitarised zone (DMZ) and get the DMZ listed as an intangible cultural heritage with Unesco.

"The DMZ is not just about ecology and history. It is a place of great value, symbolising reconciliation and peace between the two Koreas. The Unesco list is something we can start on immediately. I hope North Korea will respond favourably."

Mr Moon also noted that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the North-South Joint Declaration signed between then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 2000 to mark the historic first summit between the two countries. The two sides agreed to promote reunification, build mutual trust, and resolve humanitarian issues such as separated families.

"I hope the North and South can work together on a joint event to strengthen the will for peaceful reunification and prepare for an early visit by Chairman Kim Jong Un."

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