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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 1)

All News 06:58 November 01, 2021

Hopes for papal visit
Moon asks pope to travel to North Korea

Pope Francis has reacted positively to President Moon Jae-in's proposal for a papal visit to North Korea. His visit, if realized, could help bring peace on the Korean Peninsula. Yet it is uncertain if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will invite the pope to his country anytime soon.

On Friday, Moon asked the pope to travel to the North, hoping that such a visit will serve as momentum for peace on the peninsula. He made the offer during his visit to Rome to meet the pope and attend the G20 Leaders' Summit over the weekend.

We welcome the pope's positive reaction to Moon's proposal. Presidential spokesperson Park Kyung-mee quoted Pope Francis as telling Moon, "I am willing to go there for peace and help all of you if (North Korea) sends a letter of invitation."

It is not the first time for President Moon to make such an offer. He delivered the pope a verbal invitation from Kim during their meeting in 2018. At the time the pope also expressed his willingness to visit the North if he receives an official invitation from Pyongyang.

The pope was previously quoted as saying that he wants to walk hand in hand with the leaders of the two Koreas at the truce village of Panmunjeom. He also floated the idea of visiting Seoul and Pyongyang on the same trip. All this reflected his readiness to contribute to easing tensions and making peace on the peninsula, the last frontier of the Cold war.

A possible visit to North Korea by Pope Francis, the religious leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, could carry significant meaning. It could also have positive implications on Moon's push for an official declaration of the end of the Korean War which was halted in 1953 with an armistice, but not a peace treaty. In addition, it could help create an atmosphere conducive to improving inter-Korean ties and resuming the denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang. U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed the proposed papal visit to the North as good news.

But the problem is that the North has yet to send an invitation to the pope. It still remains to be seen whether Pyongyang will accept Moon's proposal this time. We urge the Kim regime to give a positive response that could make a breakthrough in its stalled diplomacy with both Seoul and Washington. The North can get much-needed food aid and COVID-19 vaccine supplies from the South and other countries if the pope's visit is realized.

Yet, we should not be too optimistic. North Korea has continued to test-fire ballistic missiles to improve its nuclear capabilities. It has reportedly demanded the suspension of South Korea-U.S. military exercises and a lifting of sanctions as a precondition for an end-of-war declaration. In this situation, Seoul and Washington should work more closely to narrow their differences over how to lure Pyongyang back to dialogue. The North, for its part, must show its willingness to denuclearize before asking for sanctions relief.

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