May 11, 2017 3:35 am JST

New South Korean president commits to dialogue with North

Moon's stance contrasts with tough Japanese, US attitudes

HIROSHI MINEGISHI, Nikkei staff writer

Moon Jae-in, South Korea's new president, says he is willing to visit Pyongyang "under the right circumstances." © Kyodo

SEOUL -- As South Korea's first progressive president in nine years, Moon Jae-in is standing by his campaign pledge to seek a peaceful resolution to the growing North Korean threat.

In his inaugural address Wednesday, Moon vowed to "lay the foundation for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue" and "provide a turning point" for easing tensions on the peninsula.

The president said he is prepared to fly immediately to Washington, Beijing or Tokyo if necessary, and that he would even visit Pyongyang "under the right circumstances." "I will do whatever I can to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

Moon, sworn in Wednesday follow his victory in the election the day before, also demonstrated his determination by nominating Suh Hoon, a key player behind the North-South summit in 2007, as director of the National Intelligence Service.

Moon said he will have a serious discussion with the U.S. and China over the deployment of the American military's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile shield in South Korea. Beijing is strident in its opposition to THAAD on the grounds that it could spy on Chinese bases, and has economically retaliated against South Korea over its deployment. The new president seems to intent on serving as a middleman between the two powers.

Moon named a politician with Japanese connections, South Jeolla Gov. Lee Nak-yon, as his nominee for prime minister. Lee previously worked as a reporter for a major South Korean paper in Tokyo, as well as an officer in the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians' Union. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Lee identified seeking breakthrough in the "security and diplomatic crisis" facing South Korea as a top priority.

But the new administration's conciliatory attitude toward North Korea may open up rifts with regional partners. Moon has expressed hoped that South Korea could emerge from peace between the two Koreas as a leading player in East Asian security and economic diplomacy. His stance contrasts with the harder lines taken by Japan and the U.S. toward Pyongyang, and could undermine their ability to put three-way pressure on Kim Jong Un's regime, some fear.

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