Korean ruling party candidate takes a softer line on the North

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The South Korean ruling party’s presidential candidate said on Thursday he would pursue a conciliatory approach towards North Korea if elected and questioned the effectiveness of US-led economic sanctions to pressure the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Comments by Lee Jae-myung, who represents President Moon Jae-in’s Liberal Democratic Party, come as North Korea-US nuclear talks remain frozen over question of easing crippling sanctions directed by the United States in exchange for measures by the North South Korea ends its nuclear weapons program.

Lee was locked in a tight race in the March elections with Tory candidate Yoon Suk Yeol, who pledged a tougher stance on North Korea and vowed to continue closer military cooperation with Washington and Tokyo to deal with the growing nuclear threat from North Korea.

In a meeting with foreign media, Lee stressed that South Korea should play a leading role in relations with North Korea, reflecting concerns in Seoul that it is increasingly losing its voice in international efforts to resolve the nuclear stalemate.

Lee expressed a desire to be an “active mediator” between US President Joe Biden and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to help them reach an agreement based on conditional sanctions relief and “simultaneous and progressive action. “from the North to reduce its nuclear weapons and missiles.

“When we ask if the tough stance (against North Korea) based on sanctions and pressure really produced the results the Western world was aiming for, I can’t say it was 100% so,” he said. said Lee.

“In the future, we will judge whether a softer approach would be more effective or if a stricter approach would be more effective depending on how the situation evolves. But judging from the current situation, I think softer policies have been more effective than tougher policies. “

Moon took a similar stance by helping organize the first summit between Kim and former US President Donald Trump in 2018. At the meeting in Singapore, Trump and Kim pledged to improve relations and issued ambitious goals for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula without describing when or how it would happen.

But the talks derailed after their next meeting failed in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s request for a major easing of sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim has since vowed to step up nuclear deterrence in response to what he describes as hostility from the United States and has stepped up testing of nuclear-capable weapons threatening allies of the United States, South Korea and the United States. Japan.

His government has also suspended all cooperation with South Korea while expressing its anger at the South’s joint military exercises with the United States and its reluctance to defy sanctions to revive inter-Korean economic projects.

Kim’s hard line has fueled doubts about whether he will ever fully relinquish an arsenal he clearly sees as his greatest guarantee of survival. While offering open talks with North Korea, the Biden administration has shown no willingness to ease sanctions unless the North takes concrete steps towards denuclearization.

Lee said it would be crucial for Seoul and Washington to restore trust with North Korea for diplomacy to be productive. He also urged North Korea to stick to the inter-Korean peace accords reached in 2018 and regretted the North’s detonation in 2020 of an empty inter-Korean liaison office near its border with the South.

“From the perspective of the distant United States, the Korean Peninsula issue is only part of their global military and security strategy. But for the 80 million Koreans who live here, it’s a matter of life and death and our whole future, ”said Lee.

Lee said he was ready to improve relations with the former colonial ruler of Japan, which has fallen to its lowest since World War II in recent years due to disputes over trade and the history of the war.

Japan has expressed its anger at South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate Koreans who were forced into forced labor during the war. Countries are also stuck in a decades-long standoff over Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during wartime.

Lee said he would maintain a two-pronged approach – cooperating with Tokyo on security and economic issues, but responding firmly to questions surrounding history and territorial disputes.

Recent opinion polls have favored Yoon slightly over Lee amid growing public frustration with Moon’s struggles with a declining job market, soaring house prices and debt. household record.

Moon has also been accused of backtracking on his promise to curb the excesses of “chaebol”, South Korean family conglomerates, and to end their ties with politicians. In August, Justice Minister Moon freed billionaire Samsung Lee Jae-yong on parole after spending 18 months in prison for his role in a massive corruption scandal that sparked nationwide protests and led to the ousting of Moon’s conservative predecessor.

Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate, promised a tougher approach on white-collar crime, but declined to answer when asked if he too would have freed Samsung’s vice president if he had. been president.

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