Posted December. 02, 2017 08:09,
Updated December. 02, 2017 08:17
In his call with U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday, President Moon Jae-in said, “North Korea’s Hwasong-15 ballistic missile is apparently the most advanced one, but the North has yet to verify reentry technology and terminal phase guidance technology, while whether the North has secured technology to miniaturize a nuclear warhead remains uncertain.” Trump did not express any objection to Moon’s saying that the North has not completed the development of an ICBM loaded with a nuclear warhead, South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said. The White House only said the two sides reaffirmed robust promise to bring the North back to the path towards denuclearization no matter what happens.
The call between the two leaders happened successively just a day after their first call on the day of the North’s ICBM launch, and continued for the longest time among the calls between them. The dialogue would naturally have been more tensional than ever, but both Cheong Wa Dae and the White House stopped short of disclosing details. While Cheong Wa Dae said that it was basic dialogue to diagnose Pyongyang’s intention and current situation, the White House said that the two leaders discussed the next phase to cope with the North’s provocations. A Cheong Wa Dae source sought to dispel suspicion by saying that they did not mention maritime blockade or military options, but doubt is mounting nonetheless.
The reason Moon has emphasized he cannot trust North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s arguing the completion of nuclear armament is obvious. The South Korean president apparently urged his U.S. counterpart to refrain from taking any hasty reaction, saying that the allies still have a chance before the North crosses the red line of his own definition – completing an ICBM, and weaponizing it by loading a nuclear warhead. Moon’s remarks showed his expectations that the North’s claim of “completion” could be a sign that Pyongyang may now stop provocations with nuclear weapons and missiles and return to the negotiating table.
In the United States, there are two lines of highly contentious argument on how to respond to the North - an argument of military options such as preemptive strike and the other of negotiation to shift to dramatic dialogue. President Moon Jae-in is focusing on the latter, and highly concerned about a situation where in President Trump may opt for the former. It is for this reason that Moon has hastily stated, “We have to prevent a situation wherein Washington considers a preemptive strike.”
President Trump would be agonizing over the two options as well. He would want to take strike action immediately given his unreserved criticism of Kim Jong Un on Twitter, but his aides are still stressing a diplomatic solution. Moreover, Kim Jong Un will continue to be impulsive in his behaviors between a flurry of argument for peace and bold provocations. The situation will inevitably head towards one of the two extremes, namely military conflict or dramatic dialogue. Both scenarios are nightmares for South Korea as they force Seoul to accept “sacrifice” or “passing (being sidelined).” This is apparently what President Moon is worried about.
A Cheong Wa Dae source stated Friday that the issue of the North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles is initially a matter between Pyongyang and Washington. These remarks could be seen as a complaint that South Korea has nothing that it can do about, but it causes concern about whether Seoul is being unknowingly affected by Pyongyang’s claim that the nuclear issue should be resolved by North Korea and the United States. During early days after his inauguration, President Moon himself said South Korea would “take the driver’s seat.” Nothing will be resolved if President Moon only expresses a sense of hopelessness and incompetence for being sidelined as a third party. In a situation like this, Moon should all the more desperately pursue “balanced diplomacy” by closely consulting with Trump and sending a stern warning against Kim Jong Un.