Moon promises to cooperate on budget for relocation of presidential office: Yoon aide

SEOUL-- President Moon Jae-in promised to cooperate on a budget for successor-elect Yoon Suk-yeol's plan to move the presidential office out of Cheong Wa Dae, during their first meeting since the election on Monday, Yoon's chief of staff said.

Moon also said it is up to the incoming government to decide where to move the presidential office, Yoon's chief of staff, Chang Je-won, said during a press briefing following the dinner meeting at Cheong Wa Dae that lasted for two hours and 51 minutes.

The remark contrasts with an earlier expression of concern by Moon's office over Yoon's plan to move the presidential office to what is now the defense ministry building by May 10, saying such a hurried relocation could cause a security vacuum at a time of rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula. May 10 is Yoon's inauguration date.

"President Moon said he believes a determination on the relocation area of the presidential office is the next government's to make and that the current government will carefully look into and cooperate for the budget needed for the exact relocation plan," Chang said.

The dinner meeting at Cheong Wa Dae came 19 days after Yoon of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) was elected Moon's successor in the March 9 election, marking the longest period before a meeting between the outgoing and incoming presidents.

Moon shook hands with Yoon as the president-elect arrived at Cheong Wa Dae. Wearing face masks, they walked through a garden and exchanged words about flowers and Cheong Wa Dae buildings before entering the meeting room.

The two had originally planned to meet March 16, but the plan was called off at the last minute after the sides failed to reach an agreement on issues that included personnel appointments for key positions and a proposed pardon for former President Lee Myung-bak.

Tensions between the two sides rose further after Moon's office expressed concern over Yoon's relocation plan, and Moon went ahead and made a nomination for governor of the central Bank of Korea.

Chang said the issue of pardoning Lee did not come up during the dinner. The former president has been serving a prison sentence for corruption.

Chang also said there was no discussion of specific personnel appointments, though both Moon and Yoon asked him and Moon's senior secretary for political affairs Lee Cheol-hee to consult closely on the issue.

The president-elect was widely expected to ask Moon to draw up an additional supplementary budget aimed at helping small businesses hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two agreed on the need for an extra budget but did not discuss details, such as its size, and agreed to continue talks at the working level, Chang said.

Monday's meeting was set up after Moon offered to meet with Yoon at the "earliest possible" date, while Yoon expressed his hope to meet without any agenda and engage in "candid" dialogue, according to officials from both sides.

The meeting also came as tensions on the Korean Peninsula heightened after North Korea successfully test-fired a massive intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last week, marking its first ICBM test-launch since 2017.

The launch ended the North's self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests -- an anticipated move denting Moon's fragile peace drive and presaging a struggle for his successor, Yoon.

"The president and the president-elect discussed security issues, and agreed to do their best to consult with each other to ensure there is not even the slightest leak in the government transition process when it comes to the nation's security," Chang said.

During Monday's meeting, Moon and Yoon were accompanied by Presidential Chief of Staff Yoo Young-min and Yoon's chief of staff Chang.

The meeting marked the farthest time past an election that a president and a president-elect in South Korea will have met.

In 2007, then President Roh Moo-hyun met then President-elect Lee Myung-bak nine days after Lee's election. Also in 2012, then President Lee met then President-elect Park Geun-hye nine days after Park's election.

Yoon served as a top prosecutor under the Moon administration, but their relationship took a downturn when the prosecution under Yoon launched a corruption investigation into Cho Kuk, one of Moon's closest aides and his pick for justice minister.

Yoon joined the PPP last year and became the conservative party's presidential candidate.

Chang said Cho was not brought up during the dinner.

At the start of their meeting, Moon said he sincerely congratulates Yoon on his election, while Yoon thanked him and promised to inherit successful policies and improve on those that came up short, Chang said.

Before parting, Moon gave Yoon a tie and wished him success, saying Yoon can reach out any time his help is needed. Yoon wished the president good health, Chang said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency