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(Yonhap Interview) Ahn urges Moon to seek stronger sanctions on N. Korea rather than begging for dialogue

2017/09/01 10:37

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SEOUL, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) -- The newly elected head of the minor opposition People's Party slammed the government of President Moon Jae-in for "begging" for dialogue with North Korea, saying now is not the time for talks, but to work closely with the United States to push for stronger sanctions.

In an interview with Yonhap News Agency, Ahn Cheol-soo also expressed clear opposition to the idea of redeploying tactical U.S. nuclear weapons back to South Korea, saying the move would amount to acknowledging the North's nuclear programs.

Ahn, a former presidential candidate, was elected head of the party over the weekend, even though other competitors put up strong challenges by claiming that it's too early for him to return to the post, just a few months after his defeat in May's presidential election.

Since taking over the party's rein, Ahn has stepped up criticism of the Moon government.

"All we can see now is soft policies, not the combination of dialogue and pressure," Ahn said during the interview at his office in the National Assembly on Thursday.

"As we've kept getting ignored (by the North), it's not the time to bring up a policy of dialogue. It's time to push strongly for sanctions through the Korea-U.S. alliance and international cooperation," he said. "It's time to be firm so as to make dialogue happen. It's not the time to be weak and beg for dialogue. We keep getting ignored."

   He rejected calls for bringing U.S. nuclear weapons back into the South to cope with the North.

"Deployment of tactical nuclear weapons is not a measure we can take in the current situation," Ahn said. "If tactical nuclear weapons are deployed, it will amount to recognizing North Korea's nuclear weapons."

   Instead, Ahn said that the country should ask the U.S. to permanently deploy strategic military assets on a rotational basis. Permanently deploying U.S. strategic assets on a rotational basis means keeping at least one such asset either in, over or near South Korea at any given time.

Ahn reacted negatively to Moon's nominee for Constitutional Court chief, taking issue with remarks by ruling Democratic Party leaders, including party chief Rep. Choo Mi-ae, that former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook who served years in prison for bribery, was wrongfully indicted and convicted.

Those remarks sparked strong criticism that the ruling party disregards the judicial system.

"We've approached judge appointments from the perspective of the separation of legal, administrative and judicial powers and whether such appointments are good for judicial independence and reform. However, bigger concerns have risen," Ahn said.

"Looking at the statements and attitudes of the government and the ruling party, including the issue of former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook, we cannot overlook the situation. Our basic position is to make a decision (on the nomination) with stricter criteria."

   Asked if the party is going to reject the nomination, Ahn said the party will have heated debates before a vote takes place on the nomination, but the negative sentiment looms large now.

Ahn, who has often been talked about as a potential candidate for Seoul mayor, said his duties as party chief is to do his best to bring good talent for the mayorship, not nominate himself. Pressed again if he's not interested in running, he said he would first focus on his current duties as party chief.

Ahn, however, made clear that he's not interested in running for the parliamentary by-elections.

He expressed strong criticism of Moon and his government, saying he still appears to be in election campaign mode, rather than running state affairs.

Ahn said the government has made a series of decisions important for the country's future in a hurried manner without due process and consideration of how to carry them out, including raising financial resources to fund such decisions.

He also said Moon's approval ratings are also inflated.

"We've lived without a president for so long," Ahn said, referring to the many months during which former President Park Geun-hye was impeached and then ultimately removed from office before Moon was elected. "As an effect of that, what's ordinary can be appreciated highly."