SEOUL (Reuters) – Ju-min Park and Jack Kim report: South Korea’s new liberal President Moon Jae-in was sworn in on Wednesday and vowed to immediately tackle the difficult tasks of addressing North Korea’s advancing nuclear ambitions and soothing tensions with the United States and China.
Moon said in his first speech as president he would begin efforts to defuse security tensions on the Korean peninsula and negotiate with Washington and Beijing to ease a row over a U.S. missile defense system being deployed in the South.
In a phone call congratulating Moon’s election, U.S. President Donald Trump agreed with the new South Korean leader to cooperate on North Korea’s nuclear issue and invited him to visit Washington, the South Korean presidential office said.
Trump reaffirmed the U.S.-South Korea alliance was strong and said North Korea’s nuclear issue was a difficult problem but one that could be resolved, the Blue House said in a statement.
In his first key appointments, Moon named two liberal veterans with ties to the “Sunshine Policy” of engagement with North Korea from the 2000s to the posts of prime minister and spy chief.
Moon named Suh Hoon, a career spy agency official and a veteran of inter-Korea ties, as the head of the National Intelligence Service. Suh was instrumental in setting up two previous summits between the North and South.
Veteran liberal politician Lee Nak-yon was nominated to serve as prime minister. Now a regional governor, Lee was a political ally of the two former presidents who held the summits with the North in 2000 and 2007.
Lee’s appointment requires parliamentary approval.
Moon was expected to fill the remaining cabinet and presidential staff appointments swiftly to bring an end to a power vacuum left by the removal of Park Geun-hye in March in a corruption scandal that rocked South Korea’s business and political elite.
“I will urgently try to solve the security crisis,” Moon said in the domed rotunda hall of the parliament building. “If needed, I will fly straight to Washington. I will go to Beijing and Tokyo and, if the conditions are right, to Pyongyang also.”
Spy chief nominee Suh said Moon could go to Pyongyang if it was clear the visit would help resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis and ease military tension on the Korean peninsula.