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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 21)

All News 07:07 January 21, 2021

Bid to restart talks
Former adviser tapped as foreign minister

President Moon Jae-in tapped former national security adviser Chung Eui-yong as his new foreign minister Wednesday, replacing Kang Kyung-wha. The nomination is taken to mean Moon's unswerving determination to revive the "peace process" on the Korean Peninsula, which has remained stalled since the collapse of a second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi in February 2019.

Chung is expected to put his top priority on reviving the dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington in close consultation with President Joe Biden's administration, given his abundant experience in leading the process from the start of the Moon administration.

As Moon's inaugural national security adviser, he was deeply engaged in drawing up and implementing inter-Korean policies and mediating denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea.

Riding on the detente mood on the peninsula, prompted by North Korea's participation in the 2018 PyongChang Winter Olympics, he played a decisive role in realizing the meeting among the heads of state of both Koreas and the U.S. On March 5, 2018, Chung visited Pyongyang as a special envoy to convey Moon's personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which led to the historic April 27 inter-Korean summit.

Fresh from his visit to Pyongyang, Chung also met with U.S. President Donald Trump on March 8, brokering a June 2018 summit between Kim and Trump. Against this backdrop, Chung's efforts deserve appreciation with expectation growing over his role as new foreign minister, especially in time with the inauguration of the Biden administration.

Yet the geopolitical situation surrounding the peninsula has drastically changed. Since the failure of the second North Korea-U.S. summit, there has been little progress in bilateral relations with all dialogue channels severed. This is also the reason why Chung's nomination draws expectation regarding his possible leading role in reinvigorating the peace process.

We hope Chung will closely consult with U.S. officials toward the end including Biden's nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and his deputy Wendy Sherman. Blinken said the new administration is planning a full review of the U.S. approach to North Korea. He indicated the U.S. can increase pressure on the North to come back to negotiations; and, if needed, Washington can also provide humanitarian assistance to Pyongyang.

"We do want to make sure that in anything we do, we have an eye on the humanitarian side of the equation, not just on the security side," Blinken said during a Senate confirmation hearing. Chung said he would "make best efforts so that the peace process can take firm root," via a statement distributed to journalists covering the foreign ministry, just after he was nominated as minister.

However, opponents said Chung's nomination reflects the Moon administration's shortage in its human resources pool. Despite such a negative view, Chung is seen as Moon's best pick to serve as foreign minister who can do the difficult job of restarting dialogue between the two Koreas as well as between Pyongyang and Washington after the start of new U.S. administration.

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