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Na criticized for urging U.S. to not meet North

Nov 30,2019
Na Kyung-won, the floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), faced backlash Thursday for urging the United States not to hold a summit with North Korea ahead of the South Korean general elections next April.

Rep. Na, a fourth-term lawmaker, visited Washington last week with a group of bipartisan floor leaders to discuss negotiating a fair defense cost-sharing deal between the two countries amid intense U.S. demands for a sharp increase in contributions by South Korea.

Na briefed LKP lawmakers in a closed-door meeting on the results of the U.S. trip Wednesday, which includes meetings with Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, and other U.S. officials and lawmakers. YTN reported that Na asked the United States not to hold another summit with the North, expressing concern that this could have an impact on the domestic general elections next April, according to multiple lawmakers.

She reportedly relayed that the U.S. side responded they were aware of the upcoming general elections in South Korea and had a positive reaction to her remarks.

Na was also said to have made a similar remark to John Bolton, then the White House national security adviser, during his visit to Seoul in July.

Responding to the reports, Na denied that such a request was made during her recent visit to Washington, but confirmed she had made such remarks during Bolton’s visit to Seoul.

“The Democratic Party is putting everything into next year’s general elections right now including foreign affairs and security,” said Na through a statement issued Wednesday. “If a third North-U.S. summit is again held right before the general elections, this is not only a big threat for the security of South Korea but could distort the intentions of such a summit. That is why I relayed such concerns to U.S. authorities this year.”

“I didn’t make such remarks on this trip to the United States,” Na further clarified to reporters Wednesday.

South Korean local elections in 2018, which resulted in a landslide victory for the ruling Democratic Party, were held on June 13, just a day after the historic first summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Na’s remarks urging against a third North-U.S. summit came under fire from across the board including the Democratic Party and minor opposition parties and the Blue House.

Ko Min-jung, the Blue House spokesperson, said in a strongly-worded statement Wednesday, “We cannot help but question our ears when something that is related to the safety of the people is being used as a political tool.”

“The people and country do not seem to exist in Floor Leader Na’s head, which is only filled with elections,” the spokesperson added. Ko questioned whether Na was a citizen of South Korea and demanded that Na “immediately retract her statement even now if she doesn’t want to remain a criminal in history.”

Cho Jeong-sik, a fourth-term lawmaker of the Democratic Party, said at a party policy meeting on Thursday, “No matter how important the elections are… there are things that politicians must not do. I request that the remarks be withdrawn and for [Na] to kneel to the people.”

Na defended herself at a party supreme council meeting held Thursday at the National Assembly and clarified she had meant “not to hold a summit that is just for show and removed from scrapping the North’s nuclear weapons and true peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]