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South Korean President Moon Jae-in -- bottom row, third from left -- has enjoyed renewed support thanks to recent progress on diplomacy with North Korea.   © Reuters
North Korea Crisis

Mediation with North Korea boosts Moon's popularity

South Korean leader's approval hits 74% ahead of talks with Pyongyang

SEOUL -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in's approval rating has reached its highest point since December as his efforts to broker a historic U.S.-North Korea summit have won over even some conservative skeptics.

A Gallup Korea poll released Friday put support for Moon at 74%, up 3 percentage points from the previous week. His disapproval rating fell 4 points to 18%.

The president's approval rating had slipped to 63% in early February. Some young people objected to the government's decision to send a unified North-South women's ice hockey team to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, since this denied places to South Korean players who had worked hard for years. But after the games wrapped up, more than 80% of those polled called them a success.

Seoul's diplomacy at the event set the stage for a meeting between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un planned for late April, as well as proposed talks between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump. This success spurred a 10-point rebound in Moon's popularity over the last two weeks.

Foreign policy and the resumption of dialogue with the North were among the top factors cited by Moon's supporters. Even conservative media have offered rare praise for a liberal president they are usually quick to criticize, with the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper saying Moon's mediation brought the U.S. and North Korea to the negotiating table.

Moon has taken the resurgence of support as a sign that he is on the right track with dialogue, and he is looking to have South Korea continue to serve as a mediator. In a Blue House meeting March 12, he stressed that if the two summits are successful, South Korea will have driven a dramatic turn in world history.

The president is expected to keep pushing for dialogue on the peninsula. He has expressed interest in resuming economic cooperation with the North, which has been cut off under sanctions.

That said, even Moon has acknowledged that it is "difficult to be optimistic" that the summits will bear fruit. Pyongyang is likely to insist on keeping its existing nuclear arsenal, while Washington insists on "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization."

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