WASHINGTON – South Korea's president will visit Washington this week for a summit with President Donald Trump. A key topic on their agenda: concerns about North Korea's progress in building nuclear weapons and a missile arsenal to carry them.
President Moon Jae-in has been a sharp critic of North Korea and its dictator, Kim Jong Un.
During a recent interview, the South Korea leader said the northern regime should release everyone who is being detained without delay.
"Even today there are many Korean nationals and Americans who are detained in North Korea. I also urge North Korea to return these people to their families," Moon said.
North Responsible for Wambier's Death
President Moon also said Pyongyang had a "heavy responsibility" in the death of American citizen Otto Warmbier.
The 22-year-old college student, who spent 17 months in a North Korea prison, was released to the United States in a comatose state and died just days after coming home.
But in the same breath, the South Korean president said he hopes to draw North Korea into negotiations on its nuclear program by the end of the year. He said he wants to restart a dialogue with the regime, adding that talks with the United States about military options could and should wait.
"I believe that dialogue is necessary," President Moon said. "We were unable to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through only the sanctions and pressure."
Asia-Pacific Security researcher Harry Krejsa says Moon is the son of North Korean refugees so he knows families are still separated, which remains an open wound for the Korean people.
Krejsa says President Moon is a liberal who favors a softer approach to North Korea than his conservative predecessors. Moon has said publicly he would meet with the Kim Jong Un if the circumstances are right.
Moon has also challenged the United States, saying Seoul should reconsider its deployment of the advanced U.S. missile defense system.
It's unclear if Moon plans to remove the system altogether or he just wants to slow its roll out.
Meanwhile, with each passing day, North Korea continues developing nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the United States mainland.