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South Korea’s Moon Urges Kim Toward Peace 70 Years After War

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 6/25/2020 Shinhye Kang
Moon Jae-in holding a sign: Members of the media watch a screen showing a broadcast, featuring South Korean President Moon Jae-in meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, at the press center in the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. © Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg Members of the media watch a screen showing a broadcast, featuring South Korean President Moon Jae-in meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, at the press center in the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

(Bloomberg) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged North Korea to recommit to peace efforts, as the two rivals faced new tensions on the anniversary of start of the war that engulfed the peninsula 70 years ago.

Moon issued the plea to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a speech Thursday recounting the conflict that began on June 25, 1950, and South Korea’s subsequent rise to become one of Asia’s most advanced economies. He called continued confrontations between the two sides a “waste of national power” and said peace and unification was a duty owed to those who suffered through the war.

“I hope that North Korea will also boldly embark on an endeavor to end the most sorrowful war in world history,” Moon told hundreds of veterans and other dignitaries gathered at Seoul Air Base for the occasion. “If we are going to talk about unification, we have to achieve peace first, and only after peace has continued for a long time will we be able to finally see the door to unification.”

The speech comes amid a fresh flare-up in tensions between North and South Korea, with Kim’s regime blowing up a $15 million facility built by Seoul to serve as a de facto embassy. North Korea has accused Moon of undermining agreements signed between the two leaders in 2018 by supporting U.S. pressure campaigns and, more recently, allowing defector groups to send anti-Kim leaflets over the border.

The day before the war anniversary, North Korean announced that Kim had ordered his military to suspend “action plans” against South Korea, without elaborating. State media said that Kim told military brass to hold because of the “prevailing situation.”

The Korean War resulted in the death, injury or displacement of millions of Koreans, Americans, Chinese and United Nations troops and civilians, with thousands still unaccounted for. The open fighting ended with an armistice in 1953, but no formal peace treaty was signed.

Moon, 67, is the son of North Korean refugees who settled in South Korea during the war and has spent much of his career working toward peace. He was among a group of acolytes of late President Kim Dae-jung, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his “Sunshine Policy” efforts to hold a then-unprecedented summit with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Il.

Moon and Kim met in a flurry of summits in 2018, agreeing to replace the armistice with a peace treaty by year’s end. Those negotiations stalled as parallel talks between Kim and President Donald Trump bogged down over North Korea’s refusal to meet U.S. disarmament demands.

Moon said Seoul wouldn’t attempt to force its system on Pyongyang, noting South Korea’s economic advantages over its impoverished rival, which has an economy the size of the U.S. state of Vermont. He also said South Korea’s military was “strong enough to repel any provocation from any direction.”

“We will continuously search for routes that are mutually beneficial for both Koreas through peace,” Moon said. “Before speaking of unification, I hope that we can become friendly neighbors first.”

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