South Korean leader calls for closer ties with North Korea

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday called for deeper engagement with rival North Korea in return for progress on nuclear disarmament.

Moon, who has long pushed for closer ties between the Koreas, also told leaders gathered at the U.N. General Assembly in New York that his nation “will guarantee the security of North Korea. I hope North Korea will do the same for South Korea.”

Despite a string of summits between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim, there is a lingering standoff over how to get the North to abandon its nuclear and missile program.

Moon was a driving force behind the diplomacy that led to the historic summits. Trump, after trading insults with Kim in 2017, became the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader in 2018. And in June he was the first to step into North Korean territory.

Trump said Monday at the United Nations that another meeting with Kim “could happen soon” but didn’t provide details.

Moon said Trump’s walk with Kim into North Korea “was a remarkable step that will go down in the history of peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. I hope both leaders will take yet another huge step from there.”

Despite the summits, North Korea has staged a series of short-range weapons tests that has rattled South Korea and Japan. Outside analysts believe the North might be trying to gain leverage in future nuclear negotiations.

Pyongyang wants relief from crushing sanctions imposed over its push for nuclear-armed missiles that can viably target the U.S. mainland, but Washington wants stronger nuclear disarmament steps first.

Moon said in his speech that mutual security assurances would allow faster nuclear disarmament and peace on the Korean Peninsula, which is still technically in a state of war.

“The two Koreas and the United States are setting their sights not only on denuclearization and peace but also on the economic cooperation that will follow thereafter,” Moon said.

He called for an “international peace zone” in the Demilitarized Zone, a heavily fortified border separating the two Koreas — an idea that’s been generally proposed before. He said he hoped the DMZ could house U.N. offices and other international organizations.

“If North Korea makes sincere efforts to implement denuclearization, the international community should also reciprocate,” Moon said. “The establishment of an international peace zone will provide an institutional and realistic guarantee to North Korea’s security. At the same time, South Korea will also be able to gain permanent peace.”

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