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Turning down the temperature

Aug 16,2017
The heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula seem to have broken slightly. A joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis suggests a meaningful shift in the belligerent mood between North Korea and the United States. In the opinion piece, the secretaries focused on a peaceful settlement of the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis. A joint op-ed means that the heads of U.S. diplomacy and defense share the same view. They wrote that the United States does not want regime change, and underscored the need to negotiate.

Responding to the American gesture, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he will watch U.S. reaction going forward to avoid any immediate provocation, such as a missile strike on waters near Guam. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho joined the bandwagon by expressing a hope for dialogue at the recent Asean Regional Forum in Manila. Despite Pyongyang’s over-the-top rhetoric, that suggests a desire for dialogue with Washington.

With a glimmer of hope on the horizon, President Moon Jae-in urged North Korea in a speech on Liberation Day to stop missile provocations immediately and come to the negotiating table. He stressed the need to address the conflict in a peaceful way. The North must not make the mistake of pushing the peninsula to the brink of war.

North Korea needs to take sincere steps to ease the tension. Both Tillerson and Mattis said that an immediate stopping of nuclear tests, missile launches and other weapons tests would constitute “sincere steps” North Korea could take. The North must put into action a promise for the suspension of such provocative actions and come to the bargaining table.

Our government must join the international community’s effort to impose economic sanctions on the North. As President Moon said in Tuesday’s address, the government must keep building pressure on the North while leaving the door open to dialogue.

We appreciate China’s decision to stop importing North Korean coal and iron ore to follow the latest UN Security Council sanctions. Even if the decision was affected by U.S. President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order to investigate China’s infringement on U.S. intellectual property rights, the ban would lead to a reduction of North Korean exports to China. North Korea must understand those sanctions are aimed at bringing it to the negotiating table, not at raising tension.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 16, Page 30