Moon Jae-in, left, then presidential chief of staff, talks with Song Min-soon, then foreign minister, during a meeting at Cheong Wa Dae in this file photo taken in March 2007. / Yonhap
By Kim Hyo-jin
Presidential candidate Moon Jae-in has been embroiled in a controversy over an ex-foreign minister's claim that he supported a recommendation to seek Pyongyang's opinion on a 2007 U.N. resolution on North Korea's human rights situation ahead of a vote.
Song Min-soon, who served as foreign minister for President Roh Moo-hyun, said in his memoir published last week that South Korea abstained from the vote after listening to Pyongyang's opposition.
Song claimed that the proposal to seek the North's opinion was backed by Moon, then Roh's presidential chief of staff, amid divided opinions among Cabinet members.
The recently surfaced claim soon instigated political sparring between rival parties. The ruling Saenuri Party called for an investigation to get to the bottom of the issue, accusing Moon of having virtually been "in league with" the North.
The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK), of which Moon is a former chairman, dismissed Saenuri's move as a political offensive to divert public attention from ongoing corruption scandals involving presidential aides.
"It's unthinkable to imagine that the South Korean government dealt with a U.N. vote on North Korea's human rights situation in consultation with Pyongyang, a perpetrator state of human rights violations," said Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, the ruling party's chairman.
"Moon was virtually in league with Pyongyang, not to mention he ― the person who hopes to be the next President ― completely ignored the human rights of North Koreans, who suffer the most in the world."
Lee said he took it as a grave error of the government's decision-making process, vowing to launch a thorough investigation into the scandal. The party decided Saturday to form a taskforce for the mission.
Following the rising offensive from the ruling bloc, Moon rebutted, saying the decision to abstain from the 2007 vote was made based on the result of intense discussions among cabinet members.
"Cabinet members ― especially between a foreign minister and a unification minister ― have been at loggerheads with how to vote on a U.N. resolution condemning the North's human rights violations," Moon wrote on a Facebook post. "In 2007, the debate was repeated as there was an inter-Korean summit that year, and a meeting between prime ministers from both countries was being held when the vote issue was brought up. Most Cabinet members including the intelligence agency chief agreed on the unification ministry's position. President Roh decided to abstain following the majority rule after hearing the opinions of the both sides enough."
Moon added that the Park Geun-hye government should learn from the Roh Moo-hyun government that had made decisions through communication and consensus in the Cabinet.
But he didn't mention whether he determined to seek the North's opinion over Seoul's vote as Song argued.
According to Song's memoir, amid a sharp dispute between top officials over whether South Korea should vote in favor of or against the U.N. resolution in November 2007, then-intelligence chief Kim Man-bok floated the idea of asking North Korea's opinion directly, which Presidential Chief of Staff Moon accepted, saying "let's check through an inter-Korean channel."
A few days later, Song was informed that North Korea said it would closely keep an eye on the South's vote, warning of the possibility of dangerous circumstances in inter-Korean relations. Baek Jong-chun, then chief secretary on foreign and security policy, delivered a note describing the response to Song in person while accompanying the President at his residence.
At that time, President Roh told Song "Let's go for abstention now that we've already asked. We shouldn't have asked," Song wrote in his memoir.
Amid a brewing political controversy, Cheong Wa Dae remained cautious of making a direct comment but still viewed the fact that the government asked the North before voting as problematic.
"If the suspicions are true, it's a grave and serious issue," a presidential official said. "The ruling party is up for investigation so it won't be appropriate for Cheong Wa Dae to make its own stance at this level."