A day after US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford promised him that the US would exhaust all diplomatic options, including another round of UN sanctions, before resorting to a “military solution” in its simmering conflict with North Korea, South Korean President Moon Jae-in reminded Washington during a forceful Tuesday speech that the US would need to seek, and receive, South Korea’s consent before risking another armed conflict on the Korean peninsula, signaling his country will no longer stay quiet as tensions escalate with its northern neighbor.
As Bloomberg summarizes, "Moon asserted the right to veto any military action against Kim Jong Un’s regime, saying that decision should be made by “ourselves and not by anyone else.” He vowed to prevent war at any cost - a statement that drew a sharp contrast with President Donald Trump, who has warned of “fire and fury” if North Korea continues to threaten the U.S."
Some highlights from his speech:
- "Without South Korea’s consent no one can determine military actions on the Korean peninsula"
- South Korea govt will prevent war at any cost; "There will be no war repeated on the Korean peninsula"
- South Korea will work closely with U.S. to overcome security threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear missiles
- South Korea govt will "strengthen diplomatic efforts in order not to shake principles for a peaceful resolution"
- Sanctions and talks should go together; "Sanctions are not to heighten military tensions but to bring North Korea to talks"
Moon’s speech coincided with the Korean independence-day holiday on Tuesday, which is celebrated in both the North and the South. The holiday commemorates the defeat of the Japanese during World War II. According to Yonhap news agency, Moon marked the occasion by visiting the graves of independence fighters. Meanwhile, Moon’s counterpart, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, ""celebrated by backing off his threat to launch a nuclear strike against Guam, a US territory in the Pacific Ocean that’s about 2,000 miles away from the Korean Peninsula – well within the range of the North’s missiles.
According to KCNA, the North Korean news agency, Kim has received a report from the army about its plans to strike the area around Guam and said, "he will watch the actions of the United States for a while longer before making a decision."
Moon, a leftist politician who has advocated for closer ties with the North, “extended the olive branch” during his speech, offering a “fresh invitation” to diplomatic talks if its isolated neighbor would suspend its missile tests. Here’s more from WSJ:
“President Moon Jae-in extended the latest olive branch to North Korea in a speech Tuesday on the 72nd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. He called on the regime to suspend nuclear and missile tests as a precondition for talks, and offered a fresh invitation for the North to attend next year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. But in a message, that appeared to be aimed at Washington, he said that allied military action could only be taken on the Korean Peninsula with the consent of South Korea, an implicit signal that Mr. Moon wouldn’t tolerate any unilateral action by the U.S. to strike North Korea following weeks of escalating tensions.
‘War must never break out again on the Korean Peninsula. Only the Republic of Korea can make the decision for military action on the Korean Peninsula,’ he said, using the country’s formal name.”
A day after China banned key imports from North Korea in accordance with new UN sanctions passed two weeks ago, Moon called for “further sanctions” against the Kim regime if talks fail to produce a “peaceful solution.”
“Mr. Moon reiterated his support for further sanctions on North Korea, saying such an approach could help bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table. He argued that the last time North Korea agreed to a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing, its relations with South Korea, the U.S. and Japan improved.”
Historically speaking, relations with North Korea tend to improve when the international community levies sanctions while also focusing on dialogue, according to WSJ.
“The past history of the North Korean nuclear problem showed that a clue to resolving the problem was found when sanctions were combined with dialogue,” he said.”
“Mr. Moon, South Korea’s first left-leaning president in nearly a decade, has called for closer cooperation with North Korea. In his speech Tuesday, Mr. Moon appeared to push for more independence from the U.S. on military affairs, though he emphasized, on two separate occasions, that his position wasn’t different from Washington’s.
“We cannot rely only on our ally for our security,” Mr. Moon said. ‘When it comes to matters related to the Korean Peninsula, our country has to take the initiative in resolving them.’”
Luckily, the US and South Korea largely agree on how to handle North Korea, and both see nuclear annihilation as an unacceptable option, according to the Associated Press.
“Moon said his South Korean government “will put everything on the line to prevent another war in the Korean Peninsula.” He says the “North Korean nuclear program should absolutely be solved peacefully, and the (South Korean) government and the U.S. government don’t have a different position on this.”
Meanwhile, in the surest sign yet that the US and the North are engaging in back-channel talks, the North Korean state-owned television channel KCNA reported that further releases of Americans detained in NK were not being discussed, according to the AP.
“A short dispatch from state news agency KCNA said Tuesday that a foreign ministry spokesman made the statement in response to foreign media reports that talks are ongoing. It did not identify which media.
The Associated Press reported last week that a U.S. envoy and his North Korean counterpart have discussed three other Americans being held in North Korea.”
In other news, Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio – who just yesterday taunted the North by saying bully” Kim Jong Un deserved a “punch in the nose” – expressed relief that North Korea appears to be holding off on an imminent launch of missiles into waters near the U.S. territory in the Pacific, the AP reported. China has also urged the two sides to iron out their difficulties during talks. We now await the next update from President Donald Trump to confirm whether détente is truly on the table.