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Blue House denies it had secret talks in Pyongyang

Feb 20,2018
The Blue House issued an unusually lengthy and emotional denial on Monday against a Japanese newspaper’s report that the South had two secret contacts with the North in Pyongyang at the end of last year.

“The Asahi Shimbun reported yesterday that government officials of the two Koreas met twice in Pyongyang and discussed the North’s participation at the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games from November to the end of last year,” presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said Monday. “It is not true. It includes not a single drop of truth.”

Kim added that it feels humiliating to have to refute every single detail of the report. “If the two Koreas had serious dialogues as the report had said, President Moon Jae-in would have not described the inter-Korean talks as a miracle,” Kim said.

He said the Blue House denied the report on Sunday, expectating that its simple rejection would end speculation, but Korean media are now quoting the report. “I am concerned that the erroneous report would be remembered as the truth and create misunderstanding of neighboring countries.”

He then issued strong criticism toward Japanese media. “The Asahi Shimbun is our guest. It is our tradition to act generously to a guest, but we have no choice,” Kim said. “We are expressing a strong complaint to the newspaper and demand a correction. There will be appropriate follow-up measures about the wrong report.”

He added, “Please understand the feeling of the Korean president and people who are walking on thin ice during the spring.”

Quoting an intelligence community source in Seoul, the Asahi Shimbun reported Sunday that the Moon administration demanded the inter-Korean meetings first. The newspaper said a South Korean official visited the North through China after November. The North demanded the suspension of Korea-U.S. joint military exercises in return for its participation in the PyeongChang Olympics, but the South did not accept the demand, the report said.

The newspaper also said the South informed the United States later about the inter-Korean meetings and expressed its intention to arrange a dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

Kim’s emotional statement is a part of mounting tension between Seoul and Tokyo over the past weeks after Moon’s latest summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Feb. 9.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, deputy chief cabinet secretary of Japan, appeared on a TV program on Feb. 11 and made public some details of their summit, including the contentious issue concerning Korean “comfort women,” or victims of Japanese military sex slavery during World War II.

Nishimura also claimed Moon said Korea would not seek renegotiation or scrap the 2015 deal on the issue and that the foundation to assist the victims with Japan’s contribution would not be dissolved. Moon also allegedly told Abe that Korea will not return the 1 billion yen ($9.4 million) in compensation paid by Japan under the deal. After Japanese media reported Nishimura’s remarks, the Blue House quickly refuted them.

According to Yoon Young-chan, senior presidential secretary for public affairs, the Moon-Abe summit was tense, and when Abe expressed concern about delaying Korea-U.S. military drills, Moon replied that it is undesirable for Abe to interfere in Korea’s domestic affairs.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]