June 30, 2017 09:19
President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday said North Korea must at least freeze its nuclear weapons and missile programs if any talks are to take place, while the complete scrapping of its nuclear weapons and production facilities is the final goal.
"I believe (the North) must at least promise to a nuclear freeze for us to start taking serious (discussions) for its denuclearization. In that sense, its nuclear freeze will be the entrance and nuclear dismantlement the exit," Moon told reporters aboard his official aircraft en route to Washington.
"Each step in the process must be completely verified before we will be able to move onto the next," he added. "South Korea and the U.S. should discuss whether we should provide something in accordance with the freeze and what we can provide if we do; and if Pyongyang takes the next steps, then what else we can provide; and if it carries out the final stage of denuclearization such as destroying its nuclear weapons and these are all verified, what we can do finally."
He made it clear that a nuclear freeze cannot be rewarded by scaling down the allies' joint military exercises on North Korea's doorstep, as suggested earlier by his special security adviser Moon Chung-in.
"The official position we have now is that North Korea's nuclear freeze and reduction of joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States cannot be linked," he said. "That has been the official position of South Korea and the United States, and that position has not changed."
But in the White House, there are growing complaints that China is not doing enough to pressure North Korea and that a harder line is therefore required. U.S. National security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters Wednesday, "The threat is much more immediate now. We can't repeat the same failed approach of the past. The President has directed us to not do that and to prepare a range of options, including a military option, which nobody wants to take."
That suggests Washington is unlikely to subscribe to Moon's plan of gradual rewards, which essentially replicates past failed efforts to get the North to dismantle the nuclear facilities.
The North has habitually extracted rewards for slowing its nuclear development and then reneged on its promises, only to start the cycle again.
There were signs earlier that Washington may be willing to restart talks with Pyongyang if the North merely freezes the nuclear and missile programs, but that was before Otto Warmbier, an American college student, died after being returned to the U.S. following more than 17 months in a North Korean prison.
Moon had dinner at the White House on Thursday and at press time was set to discuss a common approach with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.
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