South Korea's Moon says will make 'last-ditch' effort for N.Korea breakthrough


FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, October 28, 2020. Jeon Heon-Kyun/Pool via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Monday he remains committed to engaging with North Korea, and that cooperation on issues such as anti-epidemic work could help lead to a breakthrough in stalled talks in the last years of his term.

Seoul will make efforts to jumpstart talks between the United States and North Korea as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, Moon said during his annual New Year's speech.

"Dialogue and co-prosperity are key drivers of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula," he said. "Our will to meet anytime, anywhere, and willingness to talk...remains unchanged."

Moon, whose term ends in 2022, has made engagement with North Korea one of his signature goals, and he said he would liaise closely with Biden's administration.

Talks aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and improve relations with the United States and South Korea have been stalled, with Pyongyang accusing Seoul and Washington of maintaining hostile policies.

"We will strengthen the alliance with the United States in line with the inauguration of the Biden administration, while making last-ditch efforts for a grand breakthrough in stalemated North Korea-U.S. and inter-Korean talks," Moon said.

North Korea has been holding an ongoing party congress, where leader Kim Jong Un discussed called for developing more advanced nuclear weapons and revitalising the country's economy.

Over the weekend Kim blasted South Korea for offering cooperation on "inessential issues" such as the coronavirus, humanitarian aid, and tourism.

Kim said inter-Korean relations could be restored if the South changes its attitudes and stops actions such as buying new weapons and conducting military drills with the United States.

In October, however, Kim said that he hoped the two Koreas could reconcile after the end of the pandemic.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Tom Hogue and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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