South Korea’s new president was sworn into office on Wednesday, declaring that he is prepared to visit the nuclear-armed North “if the conditions are right”.
It is an early sign that Moon Jae-in wants to adopt a more conciliatory approach to an increasingly belligerent Pyongyang, in a break with current policy, to defuse security tensions on the Korean peninsula.
“I will urgently try to solve the security crisis,” Moon, 64, said in the parliament building.
“If needed, I will fly straight to Washington. I will go to Beijing and Tokyo and, if the conditions are right, to Pyongyang also.”
The US wants to increase pressure on Pyongyang through further isolation and sanctions, in contrast to Moon’s advocacy for greater engagement with the reclusive North.
South Korea’s New President, Moon Jae-in, Promises New Approach to North https://t.co/HUCmDyPtYL— The New York Times (@nytimes) 10 mai 2017
Fresh from a decisive victory in a snap election, Moon says he is also ready to negotiate with Washington and Beijing to ease the row over a US missile defence system being deployed in South Korea.
The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System (THAAD) in the South has angered China, Seoul’s major trading partner, which sees the US system’s powerful radar as a threat to its security.
Moon’s election could add volatility to relations with Washington, given his questioning of the THAAD deployment, but was not expected to significantly change the alliance, a US official said.
The liberal human rights lawyer wants to tackle corruption too after the impeachment of his conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, in a scandal that rocked the country’s business and political elite.
Ousted on charges of bribery and abuse of power in March, she is currently In jail on trial.
In the short term, mending a society badly bruised by recent turbulence is perhaps the new president’s biggest challenge.