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Keeping dialogue alive

Nov 22,2017
U.S. President Donald Trump has put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism. Trump made the decision after taking into account the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, in a Malaysian airport in February and the recent death of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. college student who had been imprisoned in the North for 17 months. The fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s envoy to Pyongyang, Song Tao, head of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, came home empty-handed also could have affected Trump’s decision. Trump said that the Department of Treasury will announce additional sanctions on North Korea today.

Some security analysts expect the effect of the new sanctions to fall short of our expectations. As U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggests, however, the sanctions will likely be aimed at China, the North’s largest trading partner, to deter its companies from doing business with North Korea. We cannot rule out the possibility of the Treasury Department imposing a secondary boycott on Chinese firms’ normal transactions with their U.S. counterparts if they turn out to have business dealings with North Korea. When coupled with the stigma of a rogue state, Trump’s action will further deepen the North’s isolation.

The developments bode ill for the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. decision will most likely lead to deactivation of the existing communication channels between Washington and Pyongyang even though tensions eased a bit after North Korea halted nuclear and missile provocations for over two months. But North Korea could once again resort to provocations, including a testing of ICBMs capable of reaching the continental United States.

The Moon Jae-in administration is facing a dilemma. Our government expressed hopes for a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear threat through the international community’s joint efforts. Washington’s re-designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism is meant to bring it to the negotiating table through pressure.

Our government must work hard to bring North Korea to the bargaining table even while building pressure on it by cooperating with the international society. Though it is tough, it must not give up on dialogue with Pyongyang.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 22, Page 34