Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

At Vatican, South Korean leader says he’s certain of peace

A man stands near binoculars as he tries to see North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong at the Dora observatory near the demilitarise A man stands near binoculars as he tries to see North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong at the Dora observatory near the demilitarise
Ellis Copeland | 21 October, 2018, 03:31

Pope Francis is ready to visit North Korea if its leader, Kim Jong-un, extends a formal invitation, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday after meeting the pontiff, as the Vatican separately said a visit to Taiwan was not in the works.

Kim initially indicated his desire for a papal visit during a Korean summit last month.

"I and [Kim] adopted the historic [joint declaration] in September in Pyongyang", Moon said, adding that the North has not conducted any further nuclear or missile tests, while South Korea and the USA have suspended massive joint exercises.

Moon's spokesman also quoted the Pope as saying that he "strongly" backed the peace process, telling the South Korean leader to "march ahead without stopping", adding: "Do not be afraid".

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and Italian President Sergio Mattarella shake hands before the start of their meeting in Rome on October 17, 2018.

North Korea strictly controls the religious activities of its people.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) holds hands with Pope Francis while paying a courtesy call on the pontiff in the Vatican on October 18, 2018.

Moon also had an important role in setting up a June meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump that took place in Singapore, where they announced aspirational goals for a nuclear-free peninsula without describing how and when it would occur.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook, second from left, sit inside St. Peter's Basilica for a Mass for Peace celebrated by Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin at the Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

A meeting with Pope Francis would be the latest in a string of major diplomatic meetings for Kim Jong Un this year.

The two Koreas have held three summits this year.

The South Korean leader will later begin an official visit to the Vatican, where he will attend a special mass to be presided over by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

"Strong appreciation was expressed for the common commitment to fostering all useful initiatives to overcome the tensions that still exist in the Korean Peninsula, in order to usher in a new season of peace and development", the Vatican said.

Moon, who is Catholic, wrote that when he traveled to Pyongyang in September for the summit, he was joined by a Korean Catholic bishop to try to improve relations between the church in North and South.

Religious agencies have estimated the number remaining from the few hundreds to about 4,000.

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