Moon Jae-in commented on the plans during a nationally televised speech a day after a high-stakes nuclear summit between US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed.
North Korea has disputed Trump’s account of why the summit fell apart. Trump told reporters Kim insisted that all the sanctions on Pyongyang be lifted without the North committing to eliminate its nuclear arsenal.
North Korea denied that and insisted it asked only for partial sanctions relief in exchange for closing its main nuclear complex.
Foreign minister Ri Yong Ho also said Washington had wasted an opportunity that “may not come again” and the North’s position won’t change even if the United States offers to resume talks.
The breakdown is a setback for Moon, whose desire for closer relations between the Koreas hinges on a nuclear breakthrough between the United States and North Korea.
While Moon has prioritised stabilising relations with the North amid the larger nuclear negotiations, his dovish approach has caused disagreements with Washington, which sees economic pressure as its main leverage with Pyongyang.
Moon said: “I vow to help usher in an era of a peace-driven economy on the Korean Peninsula,” He has stated that South Korea should be in the “driver’s seat” in international efforts to deal with the North.
However, if the nuclear negotiations derail, Moon could potentially face a serious dilemma over whether to continue to engage with the North or join another pressure campaign against it.
In a speech in Seoul commemorating the anniversary of a 1919 Korean uprising against Japanese colonial rule, Moon made a nationalistic call for inter-Korean cooperation, which he says would drive progress in negotiations between the United States and North Korea.
Moon said he would “consult” with the United States on resuming operations at an inter-Korean factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and restarting South Korean tours to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort.
It’s impossible for Seoul to resume the projects under the current US-led sanctions against the North.
Moon also proposed the creation of a joint economic committee between the Koreas aimed at developing the North’s crippled economy, which he said would be possible with progress in the North’s denuclearisation.
He said: “We will closely communicate and cooperate with the United States and North Korea to help their talks reach a complete settlement by any means possible. Progress in inter-Korean relations will lead to the normalisation of North Korea’s relations with the United States and Japan, expanding into a new order of peace and security in Northeast Asia.”
Moon had been expected to make ambitious new proposals for engagement with the North while marking the centennial of an admired historical event, his speech ended without major announcements or fresh plans on inter-Korean economic activities.
Moon spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom did not give a definite answer when asked whether the breakdown of the Hanoi summit forced Moon to modify his proposals. Moon said the United States and North Korea still made “meaningful progress” in Hanoi. Moon had hoped to follow the Trump-Kim meeting with his own fourth summit with Kim, a prospect that now looks murkier.