South Korea’s New President, Moon Jae-in, Promises New Approach to North

“The alliance with the United States is and will always be the foundation of our diplomacy and national security,” Mr. Moon was quoted as telling Mr. Trump. “The alliance is more important than ever, given the rising uncertainty surrounding the Korean Peninsula.”

Mr. Moon’s comments appeared aimed at easing fears that his new liberal government and its eagerness for diplomatic and economic engagement with North Korea might create a rift with Washington.

Compared with his two conservative predecessors, who had emphasized a united front with Washington in punishing the North, Mr. Moon has often called for his country to take the lead in easing tensions on the divided peninsula through dialogue.

“I will do whatever it takes to help settle peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Moon said during a speech at the National Assembly, where he was formally sworn in on Wednesday. “If necessary, I will fly immediately to Washington.”

A day after winning the presidential election, Mr. Moon took office by reconfirming the broad changes he promised during his campaign, including curtailing the powers of the presidency and eliminating corrupt ties between government and business.

He also vowed to “get busy for the sake of peace on the Korean Peninsula.” Mr. Moon said he was also willing to travel to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, to meet with Mr. Kim. But he cautioned that for such a trip to take place, “the circumstances have to be right.” He had earlier said that dialogue would become difficult if the North raised tension with another nuclear test.

The last inter-Korean summit meeting was in 2007, between Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, and the president of South Korea at the time, Roh Moo-hyun, Mr. Moon’s closest friend and ideological ally.

Mr. Moon is widely expected to introduce a modified version of Mr. Roh’s so-called sunshine policy of engaging North Korea with dialogue, humanitarian aid and joint economic projects.

The idea behind the sunshine policy was to build trust with the North so that it would negotiate away its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But that policy was thrown out in the last nine years. The two last presidents in Seoul, both conservatives, joined hands with Washington to try to isolate Pyongyang with sanctions and pressure, as the North advanced its weapons programs by conducting a series of nuclear and missile tests.


People welcoming Mr. Moon at the presidential Blue House in Seoul. Mr. Moon is widely expected to introduce a version of the so-called sunshine policy of engaging the North with dialogue, humanitarian aid and joint economic projects.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

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