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S. Korea president meets with parting U.S. envoy amid N. Korea uncertainty

U.S. Ambassador to Harry Harris (L) met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) on Tuesday ahead of his departure this week. Photo courtesy of Republic of Korea Cheong Wa Dae
U.S. Ambassador to Harry Harris (L) met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) on Tuesday ahead of his departure this week. Photo courtesy of Republic of Korea Cheong Wa Dae

Jan. 19 (UPI) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with outgoing U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris and presented the Trump administration's top diplomatic envoy with a gift of Andong soju, a distilled liquor.

The exchange comes as North Korea is returning to a focus on nuclear weapons development after its Eighth Party Congress earlier this month.

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The presidential Blue House said Tuesday the two sides met ahead of Harris' departure this week, and that Moon, who thanked Harris for his service, described the ambassador's two and a half-year term as a time of "dynamic" developments, local news service MoneyToday reported.

Moon also said he had not had the opportunity to "have a drink" during Harris' stay as he presented the Korean distilled liquor, presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok said.

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The present and Moon's remarks were a reference to an earlier comment from Moon, when he first met Harris on July 25, 2018. According to Oh My News, Moon had said at the time he had heard the ambassador, a former head of the U.S. Pacific Command, "enjoyed soju."

"We must have a drink together sometime," Moon had told Harris, the summer after the first U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore. The ambassador reportedly said soju may not be enough to cover "the many issues to be discussed" between the countries, according to Oh My News.

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Harris is leaving Seoul at a time of greater uncertainty on the peninsula.

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North Korea's Kim Jong Un has vowed to increase his country's nuclear arsenal and build new weapons, including a nuclear-powered submarine.

Harris said at the 8th ROK-U.S. Alliance Forum, hosted by the Korea-U.S. Alliance Foundation and the Korea Defense Veterans Association, that while he hoped diplomacy would be successful, hope is not the only course of action, according to South Korean newspaper Donga Ilbo.

The ambassador also said during the forum that Kim's pledge to advance weapons of mass destruction is worth noting, according to the report.

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Harris added that China and North Korea continue to test the U.S.-South Korea alliance, and that conditions-based transition of wartime operational control from the U.S.-led United Nations Command to the South should not be rushed, according to the report.

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