New S. Korean ambassador to U.S. vows to beef up alliance

WASHINGTON-- South Korea's new ambassador to the United States, Lee Soo-hyuck, on Friday vowed to beef up the alliance between Seoul and Washington, saying their relationship must be future-oriented to achieve denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

"The South Korea-United States alliance is the basic axis of our foreign relations," Lee said in his inauguration ceremony at the South Korean Embassy in Washington D.C. "The alliance should satisfy today's mutual interest and at the same time, it should be developed in a future-oriented way to meet tomorrow's conditions."

Lee was named the top envoy to the U.S. by President Moon Jae-in in August and was formally appointed last week following U.S. consent early this month.

"For the last two years, South Korea and the U.S. have been closely cooperating to turn the flow of history from conflict and confrontation to dialogue and peace on the back of diplomacy from the two countries' leaders," he said. "There are achievements, but since we still have a long way to go, I'll work with a vision to create a big stream of peace."

Lee, 70, has a sizable task ahead of him as Seoul and Washington face a number of bilateral and trilateral regional security issues, including the ongoing defense cost-sharing talks with Washington and a row with Tokyo over history and trade that led to Seoul's decision to terminate a military information-sharing pact with Japan. Lee said he believes those issues can be solved reasonably in the spirit of alliance.

Lee said he'll closely monitor the situation in the U.S., particularly Washington's relationship with Beijing.

"The U.S.-China relationship can affect the international political environment, and since it plays a key factor to set coordinates for our diplomacy, I will watch it closely," he said. "I'll also analyze how U.S. domestic issues can affect our national interest."

Lee was South Korea's first chief nuclear negotiator for the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia when it was launched in 2003 with the goal of resolving the North Korea nuclear issue.

Asked about his thoughts on North Korea issues, Lee said he'll keep a level head, emphasizing that related parties should keep up their efforts and bear in mind that it is a "serious problem."

"What's important is preventing the situation sliding towards a war," he said. "That's what diplomacy needs to do. History of denuclearization diplomacy shows this is a matter that can't be solved in a quick time."

Lee said he can't make any prediction on whether the U.S. and North Korea will resume their talks this year. Representatives from Washington and Pyongyang held their first meeting in seven months in Stockholm early this month, but the talks broke down again, with the North accusing the U.S. of failing to come up with a new proposal.

Meanwhile, Lee began his duties as ambassador by visiting the memorial cemetery in Washington to pay tribute to late American veterans who fought in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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