December 16, 2016 5:00 am JST

South Korean presidential hopeful questions 'comfort women' accord

Opposition leader says Park's foreign policy deals should be reconsidered

HIROSHI MINEGISHI, Nikkei staff writer

Moon Jae-in

SEOUL -- The leading opposition candidate for South Korea's presidency suggested Thursday he would renegotiate President Park Geun-hye's signature agreements, including last year's accord with Japan on the issue of wartime "comfort women."

Moon Jae-in, former head of the leading opposition Democratic Party of Korea, touched on the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system and a bilateral agreement with Japan to share military intelligence, while speaking to foreign correspondents.

Moon lost a close race to Park in 2012, and he has indicated his desire to run again in the next election. The latest polling shows he leads the field of possible candidates. Moon's progressive credentials are a stark contrast to Park's conservative slant.

During Thursday's press conference, Moon reiterated the possibility that the next presidential election could occur in either April or May. The Constitutional Court is currently weighing whether to uphold Park's impeachment, and a decision could come down between the end of January and the beginning of March.

Moon questioned the legitimacy of the comfort women agreement signed last December, which is supposed to settle the issue once and for all. "I believe there is a need for another round of negotiations to clarify the legal responsibilities" of the Japanese government, Moon said, citing the need for Tokyo to make an official apology. This suggests Moon may call for new talks on the issue if he wins the presidency.

The U.S. and Korea aim to finish installing the THAAD missile defense system as early as next summer. But Moon criticized the deal, saying that objections by China and Russia show it is too early to deploy the missile shield. He said deployment should be decided on by the next government based on sufficient debate and diplomatic groundwork.

Moon also expounded on the need for opening a line of dialogue with Pyongyang. He expressed a willingness to meet with Kim Jong Un if the North Korean leader respects the denuclearization accord and other inter-Korean agreements.

At the same time, Moon stressed the importance of strengthening the alliance with the U.S. in order to counter North Korea's increasingly sophisticated nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. That statement appears to be an appeal to conservative voters, given concerns that Moon's base of support may be limited.

The General Security of Military Information Agreement signed by Tokyo and Seoul last month should be "reviewed in more detail," Moon said. The pact will allow the two sides to share military secrets, but the countries are also embroiled in a territorial dispute over a group of islets called Takeshima by Japan and Dokdo by South Korea.

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