(2nd LD) Moon slams opposition party for defending lawmaker accused of diplomatic leak
(ATTN: UPDATES with possibility of punishing foreign minister, ambassador to U.S. in paras 10-15)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, May 29 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in denounced the main opposition party in an unusually strong tone Wednesday for its stance on the leak of a recent phone conversation he had with U.S. President Donald Trump.
"It was a thing that should have not happened, with no room for excuses," he said at the start of a weekly Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul.
He offered a public apology for the "unsavory" incident as the head of "the government."
It was the president's first public remarks on the case that has added to a drawn-out partisan strife here.
A South Korean diplomat working at the country's embassy in Washington leaked details of the May 7 phone conversation between Moon and Trump to Rep. Khang Hyo-shang of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP).
The lawmaker used the information to criticize the Moon administration's diplomacy in a press conference, disclosing that Moon had asked Trump to visit South Korea on his way back home after a trip to Japan this week.
While the working-level diplomat is facing the foreign ministry's disciplinary measures and a criminal probe, the LKP has defended Khang for his behavior, claiming it was a disclosure based on whistleblowing for the national interest and the people's right to information. The LKP also said the information Khang obtained was not sensitive enough to damage national security.
Moon expressed "deep regret" over the party's stance.
"I request (the LKP) to care about basic and common sense, at least regarding issues on the operation of a state, if it was in charge of state affairs and it hopes to win public support and take charge of state affairs again," the president said.
The conservative LKP was the ruling party for a decade before Moon took office in May 2017.
On Tuesday, Moon met with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha at his office to receive a briefing on preparations for his trip to Northern Europe next month, an informed source said. He might also have been debriefed on the leak case.
Cheong Wa Dae did not rule out the possibility of punishing the minister and Cho Yoon-je.
Asked about whether Kang will be held accountable, a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters that, "What's most urgent is to figure out the problem and handle it."
It's a matter to "ponder" after the procedure of disciplining the diplomat is done, the official added on condition of anonymity.
As a reporter asked a similar question about Cho, the official said, "For now, I have nothing to say about it," refusing to confirm if Kang and Cho have offered to resign or not.
Moon, meanwhile, stressed the significance of the inaugural Ulchi Taegeuk drills that started on Monday.
The four-day civilian-government exercise reflects the Moon administration's broader view on national security to include non-military threats, such as natural disasters, diseases and terrorism.
"Accordingly, the newly developed Ulchi Taegeuk is being conducted for the first time with the notion of comprehensive security applied," Moon said.
A system has been created for South Korea's military to stage "independent, stable" training, he added.
Earlier in the day, he chaired a National Security Council (NSC) session at the underground bunker at the presidential compound.
He said the ongoing practice is expected to assist preparations for the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul, a key element in the nation's efforts to beef up its own defense capabilities amid a strong alliance with the United States.
"Self-reliant defense is an unchanging goal, as an independent nation, to pursue regardless of a change in security conditions," he said, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung.
He noted that inter-Korean military tensions have been eased, with a peace process under way on the peninsula, thanks to decisions by the leaders of the two Koreas and the U.S.
"As long as we have the right to choose, we won't stop our journey toward peace," Moon stressed. "(We) will overcome any difficulties and will open up a new era of the Korean Peninsula."
The allies have agreed on the "conditions-based" OPCON transfer, which means South Korea needs first to have sufficient equipment and ability to defend itself from threats from the nuclear-armed North Korea.
South Korea handed over its OPCON to the U.S.-led U.N. troops shortly after the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War. It regained peacetime OPCON in early 1994.
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