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Moon promises to avert war in Liberation Day speech

Aug 15,2017
이미지뷰
President Moon Jae-in giving a speech commemorating the 72nd anniversary of Liberation Day at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts in central Seoul on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday reiterated his promise to prevent a military conflict on the peninsula, saying his government would “do all it can” to keep it from happening.

The commander in chief’s promise comes amid heightened tensions on the peninsula triggered by an exchange of threats between Pyongyang and Washington over the past week, each warning of dire consequences if the other launches a military attack.

In full recognition of the high stakes involved, Moon said the North Korean nuclear and missile issue is “the biggest challenge facing” his administration.

“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,” remarked Moon, using the formal name for South Korea.

His speech commemorating the 72nd anniversary of Liberation Day – freedom from Japanese colonial rule – and was delivered to a packed audience at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts in central Seoul.

Moon continued it was solely up to his government to “make the decision for military action” here, emphasizing that without his consent, “no country can determine” to take such action.

That was a refining of a remark made during a phone conversation with U.S. President Trump last week, during which Moon said there must be no outbreak of war on the Korean soil.

While saying the issue must be addressed in a peaceful manner in the Tuesday speech, he also remarked that his position was no different from that of the Trump administration.

Over the past few days, the United States and North Korea hurled verbal vitriol against each other with Trump warning Pyongyang it would face “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” if it provoked the United States or its allies.

Moon also noted that levying sanctions against the Kim Jong-un regime and pursuing dialogue with it should be pursued simultaneously, citing a past case of reaching an agreement with Pyongyang on halting its nuclear program through dialogue.

“Applying sanctions against the North and pursuing dialogue are not a matter of one thing having to be done before the other,” remarked Moon. “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.”

Moon was apparently referring to a joint agreement reached in 2005 in six-party talks that led Pyongyang to agree to drop its nuclear and missile program in exchange for aid and a guarantee of security.

That agreement was reached when the Roh Moo-hyun government, for which Moon served as senior presidential secretary and chief of staff, pursued the Sunshine Policy of engagement of Pyongyang.

The agreement, however, fell through less than a year later when the George W. Bush government froze North Korean assets in a bank in Macau, leading to the North’s first nuclear test on October 9, 2006.

Moon said the first step in resolving the North Korean issue is for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear and missile programs. Under such conditions, an opportunity for dialogue would be created, he said.

He warned that if the North continued nuclear and missile development, his government would be compelled to “further enhance sanctions and pressure against the North,” while urging the North to “stop provocations immediately and come forward for dialogue.”

He said the North’s entry into dialogue accompanied by its abandonment of nuclear and missile programs would create a situation “in which it does not have to worry about its security even without nuclear weapons.”

Moon said the South Korean government had no wish for the Pyongyang regime to collapse and noted it would not “pursue unification by absorbing the North nor seek artificial unification.”

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported early Tuesday that North Koran leader Kim Jong-un was briefed on his military’s plan for “an enveloping fire at Guam” and “examined the plan for a long time.”

Kim was also quoted as saying by the KCNA in an English dispatch that he would “watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees spending a hard time of every minute of their miserable lot,” before deciding whether to carry out his treat against Guam.

He also said he wanted to advise the U.S., which he said was “driving the situation on the Korean Peninsula into the touch-and-go situation” to “take into full account gains and losses with clear head whether the prevailing situation is more unfavorable for any party.”

Moon spent a considerable portion of his speech addressing the North Korean issue, and much less time on Seoul-Tokyo relations. Moon stressed the importance of Japan sincerely apologizing for its wartime misdeeds against the Korean people, especially sex slaves euphemistically called “comfort women,” pointing out it was Japan’s “inconsistent acknowledging of this history” that stood in the way of better relations.

“Resolving historical issues between Korea and Japan, including wartime sexual slavery by the Japanese military and forced mobilization of labor, should be based on international principles that include the restoration of the honor of the victims and compensation, the clarification of the truth and a promise to prevent any recurrence in line with the universal value of human life and a national consensus,” said Moon, who promised that he would uphold “these principles under all circumstances.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinykyu@joongang.co.kr]