+ A

Moon and Trump discuss bolstering South’s military

In 25-minute phone call they agreed to cooperate on North
Sept 18,2017
The leaders of South Korea and the United States agreed Sunday to bolster their cooperation to counter North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile provocations, particularly Seoul’s plan to improve its military capabilities to deter Pyongyang’s threats by introducing advanced U.S. weapons.

President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump had a 25-minute phone conversation on Sunday to address the latest North Korean missile launch. The Kim Jong-un regime fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile Friday morning from the Sunan International Airport north of Pyongyang; the missile flew about 3,700 kilometers over Japan and landed in the northern Pacific.

“The two leaders agreed to further strengthen the close cooperation between the two countries,” Park Soo-hyun, the presidential spokesman, said. “They also agreed to impose powerful and effective sanctions and pressures to make the North realize that its continuing pursuit of provocations will only bring about diplomatic isolation and economic pressures and eventually lead it to the path toward collapse.”

According to Park, Moon also told Trump that bolstering South Korea’s military powers and the South-U.S. combined forces defense capabilities is necessary to counter the North’s provocations and maintain the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.

“Moon expressed his appreciation toward Trump’s interests and cooperation to revise the bilateral missile guidelines [to allow Seoul to develop more powerful missiles] and procure advanced weapons systems. Moon also expressed his anticipation for further cooperation,” Park said. “Trump replied that he fully supports the bilateral alliance and promised to offer necessary support and cooperation to bolster the tie.”

While the two leaders reached a consensus on the need for the South to introduce more U.S.-built advanced weapons systems, a presidential official said no specific deal was reached. “They talked about it for a while,” the source said. “Specifics can only be announced when the two sides hold talks. Right now, we have no specifics on the plan.”

Multiple diplomatic sources told the JoongAng Sunday on Saturday that Trump has been pressing Moon to purchase advanced arms during their past phone calls. Sunday’s phone conversation was the fifth of its kind.

“Whenever Trump had phone conversations with Moon, he asked Seoul to purchase American weapons systems,” a diplomatic source in Seoul said Saturday. “Trump’s recent tweet was something that Seoul and Washington never had specific discussions about.”

After the North claimed that it tested a hydrogen bomb that can be loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile on Sept. 3, Moon and Trump had a phone conversation the next day and agreed to lift limits on payloads allowed on South Korean missiles.

While the Blue House said Moon and Trump agreed on the principle that they will discuss U.S. sales of advance weapons and technologies to the South, Trump’s request to Moon was far more straightforward and explicit, another source said.

“I am allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States,” Trump also tweeted on Sept. 5. The White House also said Trump “provided his conceptual approval for the purchase of many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment from the United States by South Korea.”

During Sunday’s phone call, Moon and Trump agreed to cooperate with the international community to implement UN sanctions on the North and meet next week when they traveled to New York for the UN General Assembly, Park said. Moon is scheduled to leave Seoul today to attend the summit of UN leaders. His UN trip is scheduled to end on Friday.

The Blue House also said Sunday that the countries tried to do their best to dismiss speculation of any rift in Moon-Trump cooperation to counter the North. The announcement after Sunday’s phone call was also coordinated with the White House, the Blue House said.

The Blue House also dismissed concerns that Trump would have complained about the Moon administration’s plan to resume humanitarian aid to the North. A presidential aide said Trump made no mention of it.

Last week, the Moon administration said its position remains unchanged with regard to a plan to offer an $8 million aid package to help young children and pregnant women in the North through the United Nations Children’s Fund, also known as Unicef, and the World Food Program.

Japan already reacted sensitively to the plan. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talked to Moon on Friday night after the North’s missile test, Abe complained about the inappropriateness of the timing. According to the Blue House, Moon responded that the aid will be offered taking into account other conditions such as the North’s provocations and that no decision was made on the timeline. Moon also said the humanitarian aid, if it is sent, will also be thoroughly monitored after it arrives in the North.

“The two leaders exchanged not a single word about the $8 million [aid to the North],” the presidential source said. He also said agendas for the phone conservation were coordinated before they actually talked on the phone.

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