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South Korea names new foreign minister ahead of Biden inauguration

South Korea names new foreign minister ahead of Biden inauguration
South Korean President Moon Jae-in nominated former national security adviser Chung Eui-yong to be the new foreign minister on Wednesday, just ahead of the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko/EPA-EFE

SEOUL, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in shuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday, announcing three new nominations, including Chung Eui-yong, a veteran of North Korean negotiations, as foreign minister ahead of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

Chung served as chief of the presidential National Security Office under Moon until July of last year and played a key role in brokering the historic summits between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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It was Chung who made the first official announcement that Trump would meet with Kim in a hastily called evening press conference in front of the White House in March 2018. During a meeting with Trump earlier that day, Chung expressed Kim's commitment to denuclearization and desire for a summit and the U.S. president immediately agreed.

"[Chung] is a top expert who has devoted his entire life to the field of diplomacy and security," Moon said in a statement released by the presidential office on Wednesday.

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"He has been deeply involved in major policies such as the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Moon said. "Based on his diplomatic expertise and insight into policy, we will strengthen the [South Korea]-U.S. alliance with the inauguration of the Biden administration."

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The move to appoint Chung ahead of Biden's inauguration appears to be an attempt to kickstart long dormant nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang and to boost the faltering peace process on the Korean Peninsula.

"If confirmed, I will do my utmost so that the foreign policy pursued by the Moon Jae-in government can bear fruit and the Korean Peninsula peace process can take root," Chung said in a statement Wednesday, according to news agency Yonhap.

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In a New Year's press conference on Monday, Moon said the Biden administration "would be a basis for North Korea-U.S. talks and inter-Korean dialogues to restart."

Moon called on Biden to build upon the progress made in the Trump-Kim meetings and to use the declaration from their June 2018 Singapore summit as a starting point.

In the declaration, Kim committed to denuclearization, while both sides agreed to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

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Subsequent negotiations faltered, however, and have been at a stalemate since a follow-up summit held in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2019 failed to reach an agreement.

In the meantime, North Korea has continued to develop its weapons program and nuclear capabilities. During a congress of the ruling Workers' Party last week, Kim called the United States the "principal enemy." Pyongyang later showed off new hardware including a submarine-launched ballistic missile at a military parade.

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Biden's nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said during a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that the administration would "review the entire approach and policy toward North Korea."

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"[T]his is a hard problem that has plagued administration after administration," he said. "And it's a problem that has not gotten better -- in fact, it's gotten worse."

Blinken said the review would look at "what can be effective in terms of increasing pressure on North Korea to come to the negotiating table, as well as what other diplomatic initiatives may be possible."

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