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South Korea's Moon Jae-in views war remains transfer, urges peace

South Korea's Moon Jae-in views war remains transfer, urges peace
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (third from right) attends a ceremony to transfer remains of soldiers killed in the Korean War at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu on Wednesday. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in wrapped up a five-day visit to the United States by taking part in a repatriation ceremony in Honolulu for the remains of soldiers killed in the Korean War, where he repeated his call for an end-of-war declaration on the Korean Peninsula.

Moon received the remains of 68 Korean soldiers during the handover ceremony at Hickam Air Force Base on Wednesday while South Korea transferred the remains of five American soldiers. He was the first South Korean president to attend such an event, which was co-hosted by the Hawaii-based Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

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The South Korean president made the stopover on his way back to Seoul after attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

During his keynote address at the United Nations on Tuesday, Moon said that a declaration to officially end the Korean War would bring "irreversible progress in denuclearization and usher in an era of complete peace."

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The two Koreas remain technically at war, as the 1950-53 conflict ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.

In Hawaii, Moon said that a conclusive end to the war would resonate around the globe.

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"What our heroes wanted to see on the Korean Peninsula was a complete peace," he said. "An end-of-war declaration will give new hope and courage to everyone around the world aspiring for peace beyond the Korean Peninsula."

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Moon's calls for reconciliation come after a recent flurry of weapons tests on the peninsula. North Korea unveiled new long-range cruise missiles and train-launched ballistic missiles last week, while South Korea showed off new military hardware of its own, including a submarine-launched ballistic missile and a supersonic cruise missile.

North Korea has also restarted operations of its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, according to the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, a development which IAEA chief Rafael Grossi last week called "deeply troubling."

Diplomatic negotiations with Pyongyang have been at a standstill since a February 2019 summit between then-U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended without an agreement.

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Both Washington and Seoul have made public overtures to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, with U.S. special envoy to North Korea Sung Kim repeating last week that he was ready to meet with his counterparts "anywhere, at any time."

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Moon on Wednesday said that working together to recover war remains offered an opportunity to restart engagement with North Korea.

"I believe humanitarian cooperation among the two Koreas and the U.S. to exhume war remains will help heal the wounds of the war and build a strong foundation for empathy and understanding," he said.

Also on Wednesday, the top diplomats from the United States, South Korea and Japan met to discuss North Korea on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken "reaffirmed the United States' commitment to continued consultation and cooperation with [South Korea] and Japan in working toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said trilateral cooperation is vital for regional stability, and cautioned that North Korea's recent nuclear and missile activities "threatened the peace and security of Japan, the region and the international community."

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