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(Yonhap Interview) Slovenian president strongly supports S. Korea's push for dialogue with N.K.

2018/02/21 09:00

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By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- Slovenian President Borut Pahor has expressed strong support for South Korea's push for dialogue aimed at resolving North Korea's nuclear stalemate.

He, however, worried that North Korea might not easily give up its nuclear weapons, which must be its "only leverage," saying global cooperation is very important to put more pressure on the reclusive state to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

"I do recognize some skepticism and criticism about (President Moon Jae-in's) decision to try (to have talks), but let me also say that I do recognize his courage to take such a decision. It's a difficult one, but I think it is a right one," Pahor said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul on Tuesday.

"I am very supportive of his policy. I would like that he ... would be a strong inspiration for the international community that it is worthy to take the risk to get into dialogue, not to get deeper into the conflict," he added.

Pahor was visiting South Korea in time for the ongoing PyeongChang Winter Olympics that run through Sunday. He held a summit with Moon earlier in the day and also toured the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.

His visit comes amid a growing peace mood after the North sent its athletes to the Olympics and also invited Moon to Pyongyang for what could be the third inter-Korean summit after years of chilled relations due to its continued missile and nuclear provocations.

Moon has yet to formally accept the invitation but expressed hopes of creating the right conditions for the meeting to take place and asked the North to make active efforts to open dialogue with the U.S.

Slovenian President Borut Pahor speaks during an interview in Seoul on Feb. 20, 2018 right after finishing his tour of the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas. (Yonhap) Slovenian President Borut Pahor speaks during an interview in Seoul on Feb. 20, 2018 right after finishing his tour of the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas. (Yonhap)

Pahor said that it is a "unique" experience to tour the DMZ, saying that it gave him yet another reason to support President Moon's push for dialogue to peacefully resolve the North's nuclear issue.

Amid the lingering skepticism and criticism, what President Moon has to do most, he said, might be to build "consensus" among his people to add momentum to his peace initiative, a task that he is doing now but will remain tough down the road.

"Maybe this is the most difficult part of his job. I honor him for doing that. (But) he should communicate with his own people to build some sort of consensus," he said.

Pahor expressed worries that it would be extremely hard to make the North give up its nuclear weapons as they are the only leverage it has at this moment.

"The only leverage that North Korea has is nuclear power. And that is why I am asking myself how, when and if the regime in Pyongyang would be ready under which circumstances to abort the decision to be a nuclear power," he said.

Against this backdrop, he said that he is supporting not just dialogue but also sanctions to persuade the North to give up its nuclear ambitions, adding pressure will get tougher if China does "a little bit" more to put pressure on Pyongyang.

"I am supporting dialogue. I am also supporting the sanctions. ... and I hope very much that China, President Xi, would go along with the U.S. and your country and will be a little bit tougher on the regime in Pyongyang," he said.

He hinted that this is where Slovenia could come in given that it has close relations with China and Russia which are considered to be important in applying pressure on the North.

"It is important for me to get this feeling also on the ground here in your country because we have also very good relations with Beijing and with Moscow," he said.

Making a breakthrough in the current nuclear stalemate, he underlined the importance of direct talks between the United States and the North, though there would be a "long way to go." The Slovenian president called for Seoul to closely cooperate with Washington in the process.

Asked what role Slovenia could play in mediating talks between the U.S. and North Korea, with both of whom it has relatively good relations, Pahor said his country is ready to help. Slovenia has diplomatic ties with the North. It also drew attention as the first lady of the U.S., Melania Trump, comes from the European country.

"I said to your president that if he would be of the opinion that I myself or my country could do anything to help... I am ready to do it," he said.

He emphasized the importance of global cooperation in dealing with issues of such complexity as the North's nuclear problem, saying Slovenia knows it better than many others.

"As I said to your president, as the president of a very small European country, I would like to have as many friends as possible around the world and for achieving this, there is a need for understanding of complexity of the problems we are facing all together," he said. "Together we are stronger."

   kokobj@yna.co.kr

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