(ATTN: UPDATES with Yoon's remarks at bottom; ADDS photo)
By Kim Deok-hyun and Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, March 24 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in called Thursday for an unconditional meeting with his successor-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, urging Yoon to make a decision on his own without listening to other people as pre-meeting discussions between their aides have stalled.
Yoon's spokesperson hit back, saying it was "extremely regrettable" that Moon implied Yoon had difficulty making his own decisions. She also said Moon had the wrong idea about what the meeting entails and what his responsibilities are as the outgoing president.
The exchange underscored the deep discord between the outgoing and incoming administrations.
"I am an outgoing president and President-elect Yoon is an incoming president. What negotiations are needed in order for the two of us to exchange greetings and words of advice. It's not like we're negotiating," Moon was quoted as saying by Park Soo-hyun, Moon's senior secretary for public communication.
"I've never heard that conditions are necessary for a president-elect to pay a visit to the president," Moon said. "I hope the president-elect will make a decision on his own without listening to other people."
Yoon's spokesperson Kim Eun-hye issued a statement in response.
"It is extremely regrettable that (Moon) spoke as if there is a problem with President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol's judgment and as if his advisers are blurring his judgment," she said.
"Moreover, given that the government transition is not going smoothly, and at a time when it is vital to respond to COVID-19 and the economic crisis, I cannot easily agree with the characterization of the two people's meeting as simply an occasion to exchange greetings," she added.
Kim went further to touch on the issue of personnel appointments, a key issue at the center of the Moon-Yoon row, noting that the people who will be appointed to fill the public offices pending nominations will work with the next president, not with the current one.
"It is common sense that the president-elect's wishes should be respected," she said. "Once the presidential election is over, the practice and natural course until now have been to freeze appointments as much as possible and to cooperate to allow the new government to work with new people to begin new state affairs."
Yoon will not make new appointments once his successor is elected, she said.
A planned meeting between Moon and Yoon last week was called off at the last minute after the sides reportedly clashed over who would make the nominations and whether to pardon imprisoned former President Lee Myung-bak.
Moon's opposition to Yoon's plan to relocate the presidential office to the defense ministry compound has further complicated prospects for the meeting, which would be their first since Yoon's election on March 9.
Amid the tensions, Moon's office on Wednesday announced the nomination of Rhee Chang-yong, director of the Asia and Pacific department at the International Monetary Fund, as the next chief of the Bank of Korea, saying the selection was discussed with Yoon's side.
But Yoon's office refuted the claim, saying there were no prior consultations or recommendations.
A senior official at Cheong Wa Dae told reporters such a tit-for-tat over personnel appointments is not desirable. The official also made it clear Moon will exercise his right to make personnel appointments until his term ends on May 9.
Yoon was asked by reporters Thursday how he thinks the impasse should be resolved.
"In principle, I don't think it's very advisable to appoint someone at the end who will have to work with next administration," he said outside his office, shortly before Moon made his remarks, adding that he will not comment specifically on the BOK chief nominee.
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