South Korea's Moon Jae-in seeking Vatican's help on North Korea

By Elizabeth Shim Contact the Author   |  May 22, 2017 at 9:39 PM
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May 22 (UPI) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in is requesting help from the Vatican in easing tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The recently elected Korean leader sent a special envoy to deliver a letter to Pope Francis this week, the JoongAng Ilbo reported.

Moon, who is South Korea's second Roman Catholic president, requested the pope to play a mediating role in what he hopes could culminate in a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-jung of Gwangju, who arrived in Rome on Monday, told the South Korean newspaper he expects to meet with the Pope this week to deliver the letter.

The South Korean archbishop said Pope Francis played a pivotal role in U.S.-Cuba relations in 2014.

"Even when the United States and Cuba were in the middle of a longstanding conflict they needed each other," Kim said.

Pope Francis began exploring ways to ease strained relations between the United States and Cuba in March 2014, when he lobbied President Barack Obama to lift sanctions on the Castro regime.

Washington and Havana eventually normalized relations after a political prisoner exchange in December 2014, as the Pope engaged in secret diplomacy between the two countries.

"Pope Francis said last month the North Korea missile issue has been going on for more than a year," Archbishop Kim said. "He also said the situation had become overheated, and had suggested the importance of an intermediary."

The archbishop said President Moon is requesting the Pope play a peacemaking role.

The South Korean leader has issued statements strongly condemning North Korea, but the provocations have not deterred him from seeking dialogue and a diplomatic solution.

Past South Korean administrations punished North Korea with sanctions in response to tests.

Moon is more likely to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Kim Dae-jung in seeking dialogue despite North Korea actions, according to the report.

North Korea most recently tested a midrange ballistic missile early Sunday.

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