South Korea President Moon Jae-in vows to address North Korea's nuclear ambitions

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's new liberal President Moon Jae-in was sworn in on Wednesday and vowed to immediately tackle the difficult tasks of addressing North Korea's advancing nuclear ambitions and soothing tensions with the United States and China.

Moon said in his first speech as president he would begin efforts to defuse security tensions on the Korean peninsula and negotiate with Washington and Beijing to ease a row over a U.S. missile defense system being deployed in the South.

In his first key appointments, Moon named two liberal veterans with ties to the "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with North Korea from the 2000s to the posts of prime minister and spy chief.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un applauds during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
High ranking military officers cheer as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives for a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People react as they march past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
TOPSHOT - Korean People's Army (KPA) tanks are displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers march on Kim Il-Sung squure during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to people attending a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Military vehicles carry missiles with characters reading "Pukkuksong" during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Members of the Korean People's Army (KPA) ride on mobile missile launchers during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
An unidentified rocket is displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
People carry flags in front of statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong Il during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A soldier salutes from atop an armoured vehicle as it drives past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
North Korean soldiers attend a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Attendees carry sheets in colours of the national flag of North Korea during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
North Korean soldiers, some of them on horses, march during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Civilian attendees watch North Korean soldiers marching during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
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Moon named Suh Hoon, a career spy agency official and a veteran of inter-Korea ties, as the head of the National Intelligence Service. Suh was instrumental in setting up two previous summits between the North and South.

Veteran liberal politician Lee Nak-yon was nominated to serve as prime minister. Now a regional governor, Lee was a political ally of the two former presidents who held the summits with the North in 2000 and 2007,

Lee's appointment requires parliamentary approval.

Moon was expected to fill the remaining cabinet and presidential staff appointments swiftly to bring an end to a power vacuum left by the removal of Park Geun-hye in March in a corruption scandal that rocked South Korea's business and political elite.

"I will urgently try to solve the security crisis," Moon said in the domed rotunda hall of the parliament building. "If needed, I will fly straight to Washington. I will go to Beijing and Tokyo and, if the conditions are right, to Pyongyang also."

Spy chief nominee Suh said Moon could go to Pyongyang if it was clear the visit would help resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis and ease military tension on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea is likely to welcome Moon's election but its state media made no mention of his victory on Wednesday.

The deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) in the South has angered China, Seoul's major trading partner, which sees the system's powerful radar as a threat to its security.

The issue has clouded efforts to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, and also led to recriminations by Beijing against South Korean companies.

Moon, 64, also pledged to sever what he described as the collusive ties between business and government that have plagued many of South Korea's family-run conglomerates, known as chaebol, and vowed to be incorruptible.

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"I take this office empty-handed, and I will leave the office empty-handed," Moon said.

Moon met leaders of opposition parties before his simple swearing-in ceremony at parliament and promised to coordinate with them on national security.

Office workers and passersby lined the streets as Moon's motorcade passed through central Seoul en route to the presidential Blue House.

Moon waved to well-wishers through the sunroof of his limousine, which was flanked by police motorbikes.

TRUST, UNDERSTANDING

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe both congratulated Moon on Wednesday. Xi said China was willing to handle disputes with South Korea "appropriately" on the basis of mutual trust and understanding.

Abe said in a statement he looked forward to working with Moon to improve relations, describing South Korea as one of Japan's most important neighbors.

The decision by the ousted Park's government to host the THAAD system has already proved a headache for Moon as Seoul tries to walk a fine line between Washington, its closest security ally, and Beijing.

Moon has said the decision had been made hastily and his government should have the final say on whether to deploy it.

China hoped South Korea "pays attention to China's security concerns" and deals "appropriately" with the THAAD issue, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told a briefing in Beijing.

As president, Moon must find a way to coax an increasingly belligerent North Korea to ease its nuclear and missile threats. It has conducted its fifth nuclear test and a series of missile launches since the start of last year, ratcheting up tension.

Washington wants to increase pressure on Pyongyang through further isolation and sanctions, in contrast to Moon's advocacy for greater engagement with the reclusive North.

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SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 09: South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea reacts after a television report on an exit poll of the new president at the party's auditorium in the National assembly on May 9, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. Polls have opened in South Korea's presidential election, called seven months early after former President Park Geun-hye was impeached for her involvement in a corruption scandal. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in (C) of the Democratic Party leaves after he watched screens showing the result of exit polls of the presidential election at a hall of the National Assembly in Seoul on May 9, 2017. The projected winner of South Korea's presidential election is a former special forces soldier, pro-democracy activist and human rights lawyer. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in (L) of the Democratic Party talks with his party leader Choo Mi-Ae (R) as they watch screens showing the result of exit polls of the presidential election at a hall of the National Assembly in Seoul on May 9, 2017. The projected winner of South Korea's presidential election is a former special forces soldier, pro-democracy activist and human rights lawyer. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 08: South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea, cheer during a presidential election campaign on May 8, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Moon Jae-in, presidential candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea, left, and his wife Kim Jung-sook pose for a photograph after casting a ballot for the presidential election at a polling station in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. South Koreans began voting Tuesday in a special election to replace ousted leader�Park Geun-hye, the culmination of months of political discord marked by the country's biggest street protests since the 1980s. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Moon Jae-in, presidential candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea, greets attendees during a campaign rally at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday, May 8, 2017. South Koreans are voting on May 9 in a special election to replace ousted leader�Park Geun-hye, the culmination of months of discord that saw the country's biggest street protests since the 1980s. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-In (C) of the Democratic Party poses during his election campaign in Goyang city, northwest of Seoul, on May 4, 2017. South Korea will hold a presidential election on May 9 to replace former President Park Geun-hye, who was ousted from office in March over a corruption and abuse-of-power scandal. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea prepares for a televised debate in Seoul on April 23, 2017. South Korea will hold a presidential election on May 9 to replace former President Park Geun-hye, who has been ousted from office on 10 March over a corruption and abuse-of-power scandal. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / KIM HONG-JI (Photo credit should read KIM HONG-JI/AFP/Getty Images)
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In one of his first acts as president, Moon spoke by telephone with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lee Sun-jin. Moon's Democratic Party said he was briefed on the status of the North Korean military and South Korea's military readiness.

Moon's election could add volatility to relations with Washington, given his questioning of the THAAD deployment, but it was not expected to change the alliance significantly, a U.S. official said.

The White House also congratulated Moon, saying it looked forward to working with him to strengthen their longstanding alliance.

Moon must also try to mend a society badly bruised by the corruption scandal that doomed Park's administration.

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His party lacks a majority in a divided parliament. To push through major initiatives, including creating 500,000 jobs annually and reforming the chaebol, he will need to forge partnerships with some of those he fought on his path to the presidency.

Moon won with 41.1 percent of the votes but that seemingly comfortable margin belied an ideological and generational divide in the country of 51 million people.

Data from an exit poll conducted by South Korea's top three television networks showed that, while Moon won the majority of votes cast by those under the age of 50, conservative rival Hong Joon-pyo found strong support among voters in their 60s and 70s.

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