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S Korea’s Moon promises final push for N Korea peace

“The government will pursue normalisation of
inter-Korean relations and an irreversible path to peace until the end,”
Moon said in his final New Year’s address before his five-year term ends in
May. “I hope efforts for dialogue will continue in the next administration
too.”

In his own address on New Year’s Eve, North Korean
leader Kim Jong Un made no mention of Moon’s calls for a declaration officially
ending the 1950-1953 Korean War, or of stalled denuclearisation talks with the
United States.

Moon held multiple summits with Kim, including once in
Pyongyang, during a flurry of negotiations in 2018 and 2019, before talks
stalled amid disagreements over international demands that the North surrender
its arsenal of nuclear weapons, and Pyongyang’s call for Washington and Seoul
to ease sanctions and drop other “hostile policies.”

Moon is pushing an “end of war declaration”
as a way to jumpstart those stalled negotiations and his administration has
hinted at backchannel discussions.

But North Korea has not publicly responded to the
latest push, and the United States has said it supports the idea but may
disagree with the South over its timing.

“It is true that there is still a long way to
go,” Moon acknowledged, but argued that if inter-Korean relations improve,
the international community will follow.

Moon said his outreach to North Korea had been enabled
by a large military buildup that helped make South Korea safer.

“Peace is possible on strong security,” he
said.

The COVID-19 pandemic overshadowed the standoff with
North Korea, as Pyongyang put the country into an unprecedented lockdown and
Moon faced domestic pressure to tamp down the first major coronavirus outbreak
outside of China in early 2020.

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Since then, South Korea used aggressive tracking and
tracing, as well as social distancing rules and a belated but thorough
vaccination campaign to keep overall cases and deaths relatively low by global
standards.

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