South Korea's Moon taps ex-adviser as foreign minister in bid to revive North Korea talks

Mr Chung Eui-yong is set to replace Ms Kang Kyung-wha as foreign minister.
Mr Chung Eui-yong is set to replace Ms Kang Kyung-wha as foreign minister.PHOTOS: AFP PHOTO / THE BLUE HOUSE, AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea's president on Wednesday (Jan 20) nominated a former national security adviser who was partly blamed for a failed summit between North Korea and the United States in 2019 as the country's next foreign minister.

The nomination of Mr Chung Eui-yong, 74, to replace Ms Kang Kyung-wha as foreign minister was seen as a bid to help revive stalled denuclearisation talks with North Korea, just hours before Mr Joe Biden takes office as US president.

Mr Chung had sought to mediate between the two countries as President Moon Jae-in's top security adviser, making a surprise announcement on the White House lawn in March 2018 that US President Donald Trump would hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But Mr Chung was accused of misleading both sides about the potential for agreement after their second summit in 2019 in Vietnam failed to produce a deal.

The reshuffle came two days after Mr Moon called for Mr Biden to hold dialogue with North Korea to build on progress made by Mr Kim and Mr Trump at their first meeting in Singapore.

Mr Chung's nomination is to "breathe new life into the line-up of diplomats and regroup their forces in time for the inauguration of the Biden administration," a presidential official told reporters.

Mr Kim and Mr Trump agreed in Singapore to foster new relations and work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

But their Vietnam summit collapsed when Mr Trump rejected Mr Kim's offer to abandon North Korea's main nuclear facility in return for lifting some sanctions, an idea that Mr Moon had trumpeted on hopes for a restart of inter-Korean economic projects.

Former US National Security Adviser John Bolton, in his memoir released last June, said Mr Moon had raised unrealistic expectations for his own "unification" agenda without reflecting on either side's position.

Mr Bolton also cited Mr Chung as sharing Mr Moon's "schizophrenic" comment that Mr Trump had rightly refused Mr Kim's proposal but on the other hand, Mr Kim's willingness to dismantle the Yongbyon facility was a "very meaningful first step" toward "irreversible" denuclearisation.

Mr Chung has said Mr Bolton's accounts were "inaccurate" and "distorted," without elaborating.

After the North blew up a joint liaison office in June, Mr Kim’s sister said she had rejected a previously unknown proposal from Mr Moon to send Mr Chung as a special envoy, calling the offer "sinister" and blaming Seoul’s "incompetence and irresponsibility" for worsened ties.

South Korea's main opposition party criticised Mr Chung's nomination, saying it reflected Mr Moon's unwillingness to take a new approach to prevent another mediation failure.

A trade expert, Mr Chung spent three years as Mr Moon's security adviser until he retired last July.