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South Korea presidential hopeful sees path to denuclearize Pyongyang

South Korea presidential hopeful sees path to denuclearize Pyongyang
"If I become the president, I will present a very clear road map for denuclearizing North Korea," South Korean candidate Yoon Seok-youl said. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

SEOUL, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Former prosecutor-general Yoon Seok-youl, the opposition party candidate in March's South Korean presidential election, said Friday he would take a strong line on denuclearizing North Korea.

In his remarks, he also said he'd tighten defense ties with the United States, while rejecting a proposal for an end-of-war declaration with the North as potentially dangerous.

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"Past administrations have not shown a strong commitment and will toward denuclearizing North Korea," Yoon told reporters at a briefing in downtown Seoul.

"If I become the president, I will present a very clear road map for denuclearizing North Korea," he said. "We need to convince our allies, the United States and Japan, that the North Korean nuclear issue can be resolved."

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Yoon, who was elected as the conservative People Power Party candidate last week, criticized efforts by outgoing President Moon Jae-in for seeking an official end-of-war declaration with North Korea.

He said such an agreement would not be legally binding and could lead to a weaker U.S. military presence on the peninsula.

"Unless we can achieve the irreversible denuclearization of North Korea and forge a forward-looking economic cooperation between the two Koreas, then we cannot sign any statement that says this is the end of the war," he said. "It could send a very wrong and misleading signal."

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Fighting ceased in the 1950-53 Korean conflict with an armistice, but the two countries still technically are at war, as no peace treaty was signed.

Yoon's opponent in the upcoming election, former Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung of Moon's liberal Democratic Party, has indicated he would follow the policies of the current administration, which has made engagement with North Korea a key priority.

The 60-year-old Yoon, on the other hand, said he would focus on boosting defense ties with Washington in the face of Pyongyang's growing nuclear and missile capabilities.

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"We need to urgently strengthen cooperation with the United States," he said. "For the past few years, the North Korean threat has been ignored and our security posture has been weakened."

Yoon indicated that he was open to economic support and cooperation projects with North Korea, based on its progress in dismantling its nuclear arsenal, and said that he would provide humanitarian aid to the North.

He also proposed establishing a year-round trilateral liaison office to allow regular communications among the two Koreas and the United States.

The country's former top prosecutor has little political experience and only joined the People Power Party in July, but he emerged as a favorite among the conservative opposition during a series of high-profile showdowns with Moon while serving in his administration from 2019 to 2021.

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Yoon clashed with the administration almost immediately after his appointment by launching an investigation into justice minister Cho Kuk over corruption allegations.

He also opposed the Democratic Party's efforts to reform the prosecutor's office and rein in its investigative powers, eventually resigning his post in March of this year.

Much of the upcoming presidential campaign will be fought on the domestic front, with hot-button issues such as soaring real estate prices high on the list of voter concerns.

Yoon has said he will loosen market regulations while Lee, his opponent, rose to national fame as governor by introducing progressive economic programs such as universal basic income during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Surveys released this week showed Yoon with a substantial lead over Lee after a post-convention bounce. Most observers, however, feel the race is impossible to predict at this point, especially because both candidates have been prone to gaffes on the stump and are trying to fend off scandal allegations.

Lee is accused of being tied to a corrupt real-estate development while Yoon is being investigated for abuse of power and election-meddling charges stemming from his time as chief prosecutor.

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