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(2nd LD) Spy chief backs former foreign minister memoirs on N.K. human rights vote

2016/10/19 21:36

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES throughout)

SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's spy chief on Wednesday backed the contents of a memoir by a former foreign minister who claimed that Seoul consulted Pyongyang before abstaining from the U.N. resolution on North Korea's human rights in 2007.

Speaking to lawmakers at a parliamentary audit, Lee Byung-ho, the head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), said the government decision to not support the vote was made on Nov. 20, and not earlier, as claimed by those that have refuted Song Min-soon's book.

He said that the suggestion to ask the North for its views was proposed by then-NIS Director Kim Man-bok and was accepted by Moon Jae-in. Moon, the former chairman of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK), was chief of staff to then-President Roh Moo-hyun.

Moon was a close confidante of the late President Roh and is a leading contender for the opposition bloc's presidential race slated for late 2017.

The spy chief then said Song's book was based on very detailed memos he had kept and not written from memory.

"It is shameful that the head of the NIS had actually suggested that Seoul reach a decision on a key policy matter after listening to what the North had to say," he said.

The confirmation comes after lawmakers who were at the audit said Lee was circumspect about how Seoul reached its decision on the abstention vote.

Earlier Lee said that he could "neither confirm nor deny" that there is evidence that backs up Song's claim, although stating that the contents of the book was based on facts.

Lee's comments made at the National Assembly are in line with behind-closed-doors exchanges revealed by whistleblower website WikiLeaks that said a South Korean official told the United States that it decided to vote against the resolution only two hours before the actual vote.

The source said the decision was reached after a very painful debate, hinting that Song, despite opposition from others in the government, had pushed hard for a vote punishing the North for human rights abuses.

The WikiLeaks report contradicts arguments made by Moon's supporters that the decision was made days before the vote took place and there was no time to discuss the matter with the North.

Lee Byung-ho, the head of the National Intelligence Service (Yonhap) Lee Byung-ho, the head of the National Intelligence Service (Yonhap)

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr, colin@yna.co.kr