New security lineup
: Talks with N. Korea will require acute coordination
President Moon Jae-in's bigger-than-expected reshuffle of his security team sends the clearest message yet that he will restart the endangered Korea peace process and mediate U.S.-North Korean talks.
His choice of Park Jie-won as National Intelligence Service (NIS) director-nominee was the big giveaway. Park was instrumental in bringing about the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 between then President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Then he appointed Suh Hoon, the outgoing NIS director, as director of the National Security Office. Suh was a working-level official during the 2000 Korea summit, but was deeply involved in President Moon's 2018 inter-Korean summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Together, they bring a deep reservoir of first-hand dealings with North Korea, raising expectation that dialogue between the two Koreas can begin again. To facilitate them, the President tapped two close political aides, Im Jong-seok as special adviser for diplomatic security affairs, and Lee In-young, the former majority whip as Unification Minister-nominee.
The "forward deployment" of his most experienced and closest North Korea hands manifests the urgency to restart dialogue, with less than two years left in office and ahead of the November U.S. presidential election.
Dealing with the North remains a tricky challenge. The tension that peaked with the demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office in Gaeseong, North Korea, in June has subsided into an uneasy calm.
Just on Saturday North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui ostensibly set up a hurdle, saying the North does not feel any need to "sit face to face with the U.S." for dialogue that serves to tide over the U.S. political crisis. Choe indirectly referred to President Moon as a person thoughtlessly voicing an "intention to mediate a summit." Pundits however noted that Choe's message leaves room for negotiations in particular, with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arriving in Seoul Tuesday.
Nominee Park has said that he will work for the country with utmost loyalty. Suh, who is expected to work mainly vis-a-vis allies ― in particular the United States ― has said he will deal with the grave inter-Korean affairs with prudence but "at times will move boldly." Unification Minister-nominee Lee has stressed "creative alternatives" to restoring inter-Korean talks and discussing humanitarian exchanges. Chung Eui-young, Suh's predecessor, also remains in the dynamics as a key security adviser.
Their track records offer a glimmer of light in the current Korean Peninsula impasse. But the presence of these bigwigs all together on the team will require extra effort for close coordination within and without to restart dialogue.
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