By Ju-min Park and Christine Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s new president launched international efforts to defuse tension over North Korea’s weapons development on Thursday, urging both dialogue and sanctions while also aiming to ease China’s anger about a U.S. anti-missile system.
Moon Jae-in, a liberal former human rights lawyer, was sworn in on Wednesday and said in his first speech as president he would immediately address security tensions that have raised fears of war on the Korean Peninsula.
Moon first spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping and later to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The conversations were dominated by how to respond to North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which are in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“The resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue must be comprehensive and sequential, with pressure and sanctions used in parallel with negotiations,” Moon’s spokesman, Yoon Young-chan, quoted Moon as telling Xi.
“Sanctions against North Korea are also a means to bring the North to the negotiating table aimed at eliminating its nuclear weapons,” Yoon told a briefing, adding that Xi indicated his agreement.
Moon has taken a more conciliatory line with North Korea than his conservative predecessors and advocates engagement. He has said he would be prepared to go to Pyongyang “if the conditions are right.”
Moon’s advocacy of engagement with North Korea contrasts with the approach of the United States, South Korea’s main ally, which is seeking to step up pressure on Pyongyang through further isolation and sanctions.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who spoke with Moon on Wednesday, this month opened the door to meeting North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, saying he would be honored to meet Kim under the right circumstances.
U.S. officials have said they see no value in resuming international talks with North Korea under current circumstances and that Pyongyang must make clear it is committed to denuclearization.
Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said Washington had worked closely with Seoul on North Korea and would continue to do so.
“We remain open to talks with the DPRK but need to see that the DPRK will cease all its illegal activities and aggressive behavior in the region,” she said, referring to North Korea by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Regional experts have believed for months that North Korea is preparing for its sixth nuclear test. It has also been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the United States, presenting Trump with perhaps his most pressing security issue.
On Thursday, the U.S. director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that North Korea posed “a very significant, potentially existential threat to the United States that has to be addressed.”
Trump told Reuters in an interview last month major conflict with North Korea was possible…