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(LEAD) FM nominee Chung rejects allegations of push to help build nuke power plant in N. Korea

Diplomacy 18:53 February 02, 2021

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By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Feb. 2 (Yonhap) -- Foreign Minister nominee Chung Eui-yong on Tuesday rejected allegations that the Moon Jae-in administration had secretly pushed to build a nuclear power plant in North Korea, stressing the government has never discussed the idea with Pyongyang.

During a press availability, Chung also said the conditions for the construction of such a plant in the North were "impossible," given that the idea can be reviewed only after the conclusion of denuclearization negotiations with the North and the lifting of international sanctions and Pyongyang's return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"Under current circumstances, no country can provide a nuclear power plant to the North. We also have not reviewed the issue internally, particularly at the level of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae and the National Security Office," Chung, credited with playing a central role in advancing Moon's engagement with the North, told reporters.

"In the process of talks with the North, the issue of a nuclear power plant had never been brought up," he added.

Foreign Minister nominee Chung Eui-yong speaks to the press in Seoul on Feb. 2, 2021. (Yonhap)

The allegations arose following revelations that a series of computer files deleted by energy ministry officials to allegedly cover up their wrongdoing in a separate case included documents reviewing the possibility of building a nuclear power plant in the North.

The main opposition People Power Party claimed that the allegations, if true, would amount to an "act of benefiting the enemy." But the government has flatly rejected the claims, saying the documents were nothing more than the ministry's internal "ideas" that were never officially brought up.

Some even raised suspicions that a memory stick, which President Moon handed over to the North's leader during their first summit at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom in April 2018, could have included the nuclear power plant plans.

Chung, who played a key role in inter-Korean talks as national security adviser, rejected the claims too, saying that the memory stick was to present a rough inter-Korean economic cooperation initiative and there was no mention of a nuclear power plant in the documents stored in it.

He said the same memory stick was also given to the United States after the Panmunjom summit, stressing Seoul had "sufficiently" shared its content with Washington.

"During my three visits to Washington before the summit and afterwards, I explained the new economic initiative for the Korean Peninsula to then national security adviser John Bolton," he said.

"I explained that it is to present an inter-Korean economic cooperation vision in the event of considerable progress on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the U.S. showed quite a positive reaction," he added.

The documents in it were largely about economic cooperation initiatives, including one in the energy sector related to renewable energy and the modernization of hydropower and thermal power plants in the North, he said.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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