SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s president on Wednesday nominated a former national security adviser who was partly blamed for a failed summit between North Korea and the United States in 2019 as the country’s next foreign minister.
The nomination of Chung Eui-yong, 74, to replace Kang Kyung-wha as foreign minister was seen as a bid to help revive stalled denuclearisation talks with North Korea, just hours before Joe Biden takes office as the U.S. president.
Chung had sought to mediate between the two countries as President Moon Jae-in’s top security adviser, making a surprise announcement on the White House lawn in March 2018 that U.S. President Donald Trump would hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
But Chung was accused of misleading both sides about the potential for agreement after their second summit in 2019 in Vietnam failed to produce a deal.
The reshuffle came two days after Moon called for Biden to hold dialogue with North Korea to build on progress made by Kim and Trump at their first meeting in Singapore.
Chung’s nomination is to “breathe new life into the lineup of diplomats and regroup their forces in time for the inauguration of the Biden administration,” a presidential official told reporters.
Kim and Trump agreed in Singapore to foster new relations and work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
But their Vietnam summit collapsed when Trump rejected Kim’s offer to abandon North Korea’s main nuclear facility in return for lifting some sanctions, an idea that Moon had trumpeted on hopes for a restart of inter-Korean economic projects.
Former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, in his memoir released last June, said Moon had raised unrealistic expectations for his own “unification” agenda without reflecting on either side’s position.
Bolton also cited Chung as sharing Moon’s “schizophrenic” comment that Trump had rightly refused Kim’s proposal but on the other hand, Kim’s willingness to dismantle the Yongbyon facility was a “very meaningful first step” toward “irreversible” denuclearisation.
Chung has said Bolton’s accounts were “inaccurate” and “distorted,” without elaborating.
After the North blew up a joint liaison office in June, Kim’s sister said she had rejected a previously unknown proposal from Moon to send Chung as a special envoy, calling the offer “sinister” and blaming Seoul’s “incompetence and irresponsibility” for worsened ties.
South Korea’s main opposition party criticised Chung’s nomination, saying it reflected Moon’s unwillingness to take a new approach to prevent another mediation failure.
A trade expert, Chung spent three years as Moon’s security adviser until he retired last July.
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Stephen Coates and Gerry Doyle
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