Moon warns of crisis if N Korea resumes long-range missile tests
South Korean president says efforts must be made to stop Pyongyang from resuming nuclear or long-range tests.
The Korean peninsula would be plunged “instantly” into crisis if North Korea resumed testing of nuclear or long-range missiles, outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in said, calling for dialogue and diplomacy to prevent that from happening.
January was a record month for North Korean missile testing with leader Kim Jong Un hinting he could order new nuclear tests or intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches for the first time since 2017.
“If North Korea’s repeated missile launches go as far as to breach (Kim’s self-imposed) moratorium, that would instantly bring the Korean Peninsula back to the crisis situation of five years ago when there were concerns of war,” Moon said in written comments provided to a number of media outlets in Seoul on Thursday. “The political leaders of related nations should engage in persistent dialogue and diplomacy to prevent a similar crisis.”
The renewed tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have been a major setback for Moon, a dovish liberal and son of northern war refugees who staked his single presidential term on his ambitions for inter-Korean rapprochement.
South Korea’s presidential election is in March, and Moon will leave office in May after serving a five-year term.
Moon admitted he appears to have run out of time, saying it is unlikely a last-minute summit with Kim or the adoption of his proposal for a declaration ending the 1950-1953 Korean War will happen before he leaves office.
Kim orchestrated a highly provocative run of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests in 2017 that triggered a verbal exchange of war threats between him and then-US President Donald Trump, before a series of unprecedented summits between the two leaders that failed to achieve any major breakthrough.
Moon said his most rewarding achievement was helping “shift the direction toward dialogue and diplomacy rather than military confrontation” and his biggest regret was the failure of the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi, which collapsed over sanctions relief.
“It is very regrettable that the summit ended in ‘no deal’ when the continuation of dialogue should have been ensured at least,” he said, arguing that a smaller, phased deal should still have been pursued when it became clear that a “big deal” was out of reach.
He urged a return to top-down diplomacy, saying it would hopefully be “only a matter of time” before Biden and Kim meet.
“If the North Korea-US talks resume and the leaders of North Korea and the United States historically meet once again, I hope they could reach substantial progress in the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, the implementation of a peace process and the normalisation of US-North Korea relations,” Moon said.
In a phone call with his US and Japanese counterparts on Thursday, South Korean Defence Minister Suh Wook said the recent launches posed a “direct and serious threat”, and promised to bolster response capabilities based on the US alliance.
Biden’s administration has said it is willing to meet the North Koreans any time without preconditions, but Pyongyang says it will not resume negotiations unless Washington and Seoul drop “hostile policies” such as military drills, sanctions, and arms buildups.
Despite the stalled talks and increase in tensions, Moon says “necessary communication” with Kim has continued, and he does not think Biden has returned to the “strategic patience” policies of the Obama administration because he continues to make practical efforts to resume dialogue.
“We cannot afford to give up this task,” he said.