Top Korea Election Candidate Open to Talks With Kim Jong Un

  • Moon tells Korea Herald that South Korea should play lead role
  • North Korea calls U.S. aircraft carrier deployment ‘reckless’

Moon Jae-in.

Photographer: Chung Sung-jun/Getty Images

South Korean presidential hopeful Moon Jae-in told a local newspaper that he would deal with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions through direct talks with dictator Kim Jong Un.

Moon -- one of two top candidates for the May 9 election -- told the Korea Herald newspaper that South Korea must negotiate with Kim to resolve the nuclear issue. South Korea should play a greater role since it has the most at stake, the newspaper reported him as saying.

“I feel that we should take the lead,” Moon said in the interview on Monday. “At present, we are spectators who hope for the U.S.-China talks to go well,” he said. He expressed regret that U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping didn’t reach an agreement on North Korea at last week’s summit.

Tensions are rising on the Korean peninsula as the Trump administration vows to consider all options, including military force, to convince Kim to abandon his nuclear program. The U.S. recently diverted warships to the region, prompting a rebuke from North Korea, while South Korea has warned that its northern neighbor may conduct a nuclear test or another missile launch in the coming days to mark symbolic dates in the country’s history.

‘Outrageous Actions’

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman on Monday called the U.S. move to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group “reckless,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency. The move shows that North Korea was justified in seeking a nuclear arsenal for defense, it said.

“We will hold the U.S. wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions,” the report said.

South Korea’s Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn asked military and diplomatic officials to strengthen monitoring for signs of any provocations by North Korea, he said on Tuesday at a cabinet meeting. Tuesday marks five years since Kim assumed the post of Workers’ Party leader, and Saturday is the 105th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung.

Read more on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions

The U.S. has ruled out talking with North Korea until it commits to giving up its nuclear weapons. Joint discussions between six nations -- China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the U.S. -- collapsed in 2009.

Missile Shield

Moon is the nominee for the left-leaning Democratic Party of Korea, which has traditionally favored a softer approach toward North Korea. His rivals in the vote to choose a successor to ousted former President Park Geun-hye have taken more hard-line stances toward Kim’s regime.

Moon has said that he would review a decision to allow the U.S. to deploy a missile shield in South Korea over China’s objections. His main rival, Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party, has expressed support for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad.

In the interview, Moon said he would address Thaad first if he took power. “I will concentrate on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, which is the root of matters surrounding Thaad,” he said.

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