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Moon breaks silence, urges North Korea to halt threats

Aug. 14, 2017 - 20:01 By Shin Hyon-hee
President Moon Jae-in on Monday urged North Korea to cease its provocations and threats, breaking weekslong silence on the skyrocketing tension that has been fanning fears of military conflict and wiping tens of billions of dollars off the stock market here.

Concerns have been soaring over the past few weeks that the trade of increasingly bellicose tit-for-tat threats between Pyongyang and Washington may lead to a miscalculation and subsequent armed clash. Over the weekend, tension hit a fresh high after US President Donald Trump tweeted that military solutions were “now fully in place, locked and loaded” to counter any North Korean military action.

While criticizing Pyongyang’s fiery rhetoric, Moon raised the need for Washington to take a “coolheaded, responsible” approach, emphasizing a peaceful solution to the nuclear stalemate.

“I urge North Korea to stop exacerbating the situation and immediately stop provocations and menacing words and behavior,” the liberal president said at a meeting with senior secretaries at Cheong Wa Dae. 

President Moon Jae-in (right) shakes hands with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, before their meeting at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

With the South Korea-US alliance meant to safeguard peace, the allies share the view that the nuclear issues ought to be resolved peacefully, not through military force, even though it requires “painstaking, slow-moving negotiations,” he said.

He also called for the Kim Jong-un regime to make a “right choice” of denuclearization and restore inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation.

“The government has a firm principle: Our top priority is on national interests, and our national interests lie with peace. There must not be a war on the Korean Peninsula ever again,” Moon said.

“I am confident that the US, too, would respond to the current situation in a coolheaded and responsible manner in line with our posture.

Moon’s remarks appear to be aimed at alleviating fears of a military confrontation at home and abroad, which have been driving a sell-off among global investors and the consequent loss of $67.7 billion in the stock market here, or some 4.4 percent of the total, for just three days from Aug. 8.

Opposition parties had been lambasting his silence, accusing him of being too soft on the unruly regime and carrying out an unrealistic North Korea policy focusing lopsidedly on talks with an aloof counterpart.

In a fresh warning, Pyongyang’s official media on Monday lashed out at the allies for the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian annual military exercise, saying an “unwanted trivial, accidental spark” could lead to a full-blown nuclear war.

The president is nonetheless expected to appeal for his two-pronged strategy of pressure and dialogue in his Liberation Day speech Tuesday, with Northeast Asia’s stability and prosperity being the overarching theme. 

About a hundred people gather at Chief Kepuha Park in Hagatna, Guam for a rally for peace Monday. (AP-Yonhap)

At a separate meeting later in the day with Joseph Dunford, visiting chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Moon reaffirmed his stance. He condemned the North’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile tests as an act that “disrupts the regional and international orders” while urging the regime to take Seoul’s dialogue offers, Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Soo-hyun told reporters.

Dunford, in response, said the US’ “diplomatic and economic pressurization campaign” remains a policy priority and military options would step in only when it fails, underscoring the need for a solution “without a war,” Park noted.

The Marine Corps general is the latest top US foreign policy and security official seeking to scale back Trump’s rhetoric and play down the possibility for an imminent armed conflict.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis ran an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, stressing that Washington’s top priority remains the ongoing “peaceful pressure campaign,” though it is ready for military action if necessary.

“While diplomacy is our preferred means of changing North Korea’s course of action, it is backed by military options,” they wrote.

They reiterated that the US is “willing to negotiate” with Pyongyang and has “no interest in regime change or accelerated reunification of Korea. They singled out a cessation of provocative threats and weapons tests as a “sincere indication” of its “good faith” for talks, while calling for Beijing to make greater use of its sway over its cash-strapped neighbor.

“Our diplomatic approach is shared by many nations supporting our goals, including China, which has dominant economic leverage over Pyongyang. … This affords China an unparalleled opportunity to assert its influence with the regime,” the secretaries said. “The region and world need and expect China to do more.”

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo also gave assurances that the US and North Korea were not inching closer to a clash, while supporting Trump’s remarks.

“We’re not closer to war than a week ago but we are closer to war than we were a decade ago,” McMaster said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Though the US military is “always locked and loaded,” the administration is currently taking “all possible actions short of military action” to tackle the North Koran threats, including “a very determined diplomatic effort,” the general said.

Asked about the rising tension on Fox News Sunday, Pompeo also said “there’s nothing imminent today,” but in case of a North Korean military action, the US would “treat” as Trump has warned.

“I’ve heard folks talking about that we’re being on the cusp of a nuclear war, I’ve seen no intelligence that would indicate that we’re in that place today,” Pompeo said.

“We are hopeful that the leader of that country will understand them in precisely the way they are intended, to permit him a place to get where we can get the nuclear weapons off the peninsula. It’s that straightforward,” he added, referring to Kim.

By Shin Hyon-hee (