Monday 27 January 2020

South Korean leader says 'there will be no war' but hints at sending envoy to North

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a press conference marking his first 100 days in office at the presidential house in Seoul Thursday (Jung Yeon-Je/Pool Photo via AP)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a press conference marking his first 100 days in office at the presidential house in Seoul Thursday (Jung Yeon-Je/Pool Photo via AP)

Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung

Seoul will consider sending a special envoy to North Korea if Pyongyang stops its missile and nuclear tests, South Korea's president has said.

Moon Jae-in also declared, amid fears in South Korea that threats from President Donald Trump to unleash "fire and fury" on Pyongyang could lead to real fighting, that there would be no second war on the Korean Peninsula.

"The people worked together to rebuild the country from the Korean War, and we cannot lose everything again because of a war," Mr Moon said in a nationally televised news conference.

"I can confidently say there will not be a war again on the Korean Peninsula."

His comments follow a spike in animosity generated by North Korea's warning that it might send missiles into waters near the US territory of Guam, and Mr Trump's warlike language.

Both Koreas and the US have signalled in recent days, however, a willingness to avert a deepening crisis, with each suggesting a path toward negotiations.

Mr Trump tweeted on Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had "made a very wise and well reasoned decision," amid indications that he does not immediately plan to fire multiple missiles toward Guam.

Mr Trump wrote: "The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!"

Next week's start of annual US-South Korean military exercises that enrage the North each year could make diplomacy even more difficult.

But Mr Moon said he believes dialogue with North Korea can happen when North Korea halts missile and nuclear tests.

He was elected in May after a decade of conservative rule that saw animosity deepen between the rival Koreas.

Mr Moon wants to engage with the North, but his efforts have so far been met with a string of threats and missile tests as Pyongyang works to build nuclear-armed missiles that can reach the US mainland.

"A dialogue between South and North Korea must resume. But we don't need to be impatient," he said.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, this week that the two countries should work together to contain tensions and permit no-one to "stir up an incident on their doorstep".

He said: "The most important task at hand is for the US and North Korea to 'hit the brakes' on their mutual needling of each other with words and actions, to lower the temperature of the tense situation and prevent the emergence of an 'August crisis'."

"A resolution of the North Korea nuclear issue by military force is completely unacceptable and the peninsula's nuclear issue must be peacefully resolved by political and diplomatic methods," Mr Lavrov said.

China is North Korea's main economic partner and political backer, although relations between the two countries have deteriorated amid the North's continuing defiance of Beijing's calls for restraint.

During an inspection of the North Korean strategic rocket forces earlier this week, Mr Kim praised the military for drawing up a "close and careful plan" but said he would watch how Washington acts before deciding whether to go ahead with his Guam missile test plans.

Mr Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon said in an interview with The American Prospect: "There's no military solution (to North Korea's nuclear threats), forget it.

"Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no military solution here, they got us."

PA Media

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