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Trump frowns on Pyongyang tests

Moon discusses food aid, ties with Japan
May 11,2019
The United States expressed its displeasure with North Korea’s latest military tests, as Pyongyang ups the diplomatic ante by carrying out a second round of weapons launches in less than a week.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday in Washington that he does not think the Kim Jong-un regime is ready to resume talks. “The relationship continues, but we’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “They want to negotiate, they’re talking about negotiating, but I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate.”

Trump told reporters at the White House that the North fired “smaller missiles, short-range missiles,” and the United States is “very seriously” looking at them. “Nobody’s happy about it, but we’re taking a good look, and we’ll see,” he said.

Thursday’s launch was the second North Korean military provocation in less than a week. On Saturday, the North fired a volley of unidentified projectiles, the first confirmed rocket launches since 2017.

North Korea’s launches were a slap in the face to Seoul, which was in the middle of a diplomatic campaign to send it food aid. The Blue House said Wednesday that President Moon Jae-in won Trump’s support for the aid plan when they had a phone conversation on Tuesday night.

While expressing his frustration with the North’s latest missile launches, Trump still told reporters “North Korea has tremendous potential economically. And I don’t think he’s going to blow that. I don’t think so.”

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan also said diplomacy is still the priority for the Korean Peninsula. “We’re going to stick to our diplomacy and, as you all know, we haven’t changed our operations or our posture and we’ll continue to generate the readiness we need in case diplomacy fails,” Shanahan told reporters.

He declined to comment on what the North launched Thursday.

Later in the day, the Pentagon, however, confirmed that the North “flight-tested multiple ballistic missiles.” The U.S. Defense Department said in a statement that the missiles were launched from a location in northwestern North Korea and “flew east from the launch area to distances in excess of 300 km [about 186 miles] before impacting in the ocean.”

That confirmation came about 12 hours after the launch. It was a stark difference from the refrained position last week when the North conducted launches on Saturday. At the time, Washington did not immediately identify the projectiles as missiles.

The U.S. conclusion indicated that the North violated UN Security Council resolutions for the first time in 526 days by firing ballistic missiles. Resolution 1874, adopted in June 2009, and Resolution 2391, adopted in December 2017, stated that the North is banned from any launch activity that uses ballistic missile technology.

Moon also warned his North Korean counterpart Thursday that military provocations will only jeopardize dialogue and negotiations. The rare warning was issued during a special interview with public broadcaster KBS to mark the end of Moon’s first two years in office.

Moon said South Korea and the United States together concluded that the North had fired two “short-range missiles” Thursday afternoon based on their flight distances. The launches took place just hours before Moon was interviewed live by the state-run broadcaster.

Moon said Thursday’s launches could be in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“If the North did fire ballistic missiles, even if they were short-range ones, there is a possibility that it is a violation on the UN Security Council resolutions,” he said.

He tried to downplay that possibility, perhaps a move to not provoke the North.

“The resolutions target the North’s mid and long-range ballistic missiles,” Moon said. “The North’s firing of short-range missiles has never been a problem.”

During the interview, he also said the United States assessed that Saturday’s launches were not in violation of UN resolutions. Moon said he did not see the launch Thursday of short-range missiles as a violation of a recent inter-Korean agreement.

“The two Koreas agreed that they would not use armed force against each other,” Moon said. “We also agreed that exercises would take place in areas certain distances away from the demilitarized zone. And the latest launch was made from a location outside the [prohibited] zones.

“And yet, I want to warn the North that if these actions are repeated, they can make dialogue and negotiations difficult,” Moon said.

He also admitted that Seoul failed to predict Thursday’s launch. “And I cannot say if this will be the last,” he said. Moon analyzed that the Kim regime was expressing to the South and the United States its displeasure over the collapse of the North-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February.

During the interview, Moon made clear that the latest provocations did not affect the administration’s plan to offer food aid to the North. He said the South has stockpiles of rice, and that it is inhumane to ignore the food crisis in the North. He also said food assistance may be used as a means to create a breakthrough in the stalled dialogue.

Moon said Seoul needs to use inter-Korean cooperation funds to send the assistance, which requires the National Assembly’s approval. He asked the leaders of the ruling and opposition parties to meet with him to discuss the issue, despite a current standstill at the legislature.

Moon also discussed the deteriorating relations between Korea and Japan. He said historical issues have been an obstacle for advancing bilateral relations, but the South Korean government is not to blame.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]