SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on Friday tapped officials known for advocating inter-Korean engagement as chiefs of national security, intelligence and unification policy in a bid to revive relations and stalled projects with North Korea.
Moon appointed Suh Hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), as his national security adviser, and nominated Park Jie-won, a former lawmaker and special envoy to Pyongyang, to succeed Suh as NIS head.
Lee In-young, a four-term lawmaker, was nominated to oversee inter-Korean ties as unification minister, after the current minister resigned over worsening relations with the North.
Moon also named his national security adviser Chung Eui-yong and former chief of staff Im Jong-seok as special advisers on foreign policy and security.
The nominees for NIS director and unification minister are subject to parliamentary questioning and approval.
The shake-up of top security officials came as Moon seeks to cement progress in inter-Korean relations as his major legacy in his final two years in office by restarting diplomatic exchanges and economic initiatives dogged by international sanctions imposed over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes.
“Reviving inter-Korean dialogue is a top priority, and I’d look at the issue of restarting humanitarian exchanges and cooperation which can be done immediately,” Lee told a news conference.
Moon held three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and signed an agreement aimed at easing tensions, but relations have soured since a second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump collapsed last year in which Moon had offered to be a mediator.
North Korea has rejected the idea that South Korea can play mediator, but Moon has vowed to continue playing a bridging role between Kim and Trump, and this week called for the two leaders to meet again before the U.S. presidential election in November.
All of the nominees are known as strong supporters of inter-Korean détente, with Suh, Chung and Im being instrumental in facilitating the summits between Moon and Kim.
The U.S. point man for North Korea, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, is due to visit South Korea next week for meetings with his South Korean counterparts.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Josh Smith and Kim Coghill)