S Korea ready for talks with North under right conditions: Intelligence chief

The new head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), who is credited with the arrangement of two inter-Korean summits in the 2000s, stresses the need for a Seoul-Pyongyang meeting, but says it would be possible only when calm returns to the region.

“(The president) can visit Pyongyang only once the military tension on the Korean Peninsula is eased considerably and the North Korean nuclear problem begins to settle,” Suh Hoon told reporters on Wednesday shortly after his appointment to the post.

“It is too premature to talk about a next inter-Korean summit … But we need it,” he added.

Moon Jae-in, the newly-elected South Korean president, nominated Suh as the head of the NIS with the background experience of working for the intelligence agency for 28 years. The appointee played a key role in holding two summits between the Koreas in 2000 and 2007.

The 63-year-old was also involved in a plan to build a nuclear reactor for Pyongyang during the 1990s as part of a deal with the United States to freeze and ultimately dismantle North Korea’s weapons programs. The accord later collapsed due to mutual distrust.

The newly-elected South Korean president has adopted a conciliatory approach toward Pyongyang and is seen as more willing to cooperate with North Korea than his conservative predecessors.

Just moments after Moon officially began his term, he declared his willingness to work for peace with North Korea.

Moon’s victory in the presidential election was praised by US President Donald Trump in a telephone conversation on Wednesday, with the two counterparts agreeing to cooperate closely to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Trump told Moon that the North Korean nuclear issue was a complicated problem but one that could be resolved, according to a statement by the South Korean presidential office.

Tensions have escalated on the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks, with Washington and Pyongyang trading a barrage of military threats.

The US, a close ally of South Korea, has expressed concerns over the North’s missile and nuclear programs.

North Korea, under a raft of sanctions for its missile and nuclear programs, says it is developing arms as deterrence against the US. It says it will not abandon the missile and nuclear programs unless the US ends its hostility toward Pyongyang.

Seoul and Washington reached an agreement over the deployment of the US-made THAAD missile system to the South in July last year. Pyongyang, whose nuclear and missile tests have provided the pretext for the THAAD’s deployment, has expressed strong opposition to the move.

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