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(News Focus) N.K.'s claimed ICBM test to dampen Moon's push for dialogue: experts

2017/07/04 19:33

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By Kim Soo-yeon

SEOUL, July 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's purported test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is expected to put a dent on the new Seoul government's fledgling policy of engagement even before it sets off in earnest, experts said Tuesday.

North Korea announced earlier in the day that it succeeded in launching an ICBM under the observance of its leader Kim Jong-un, calling itself a "full-fledged nuclear power."

   The North's provocative act put to a critical test liberal President Moon Jae-in's rapprochement approach toward Pyongyang as he is seeking Seoul's "leading role" in bringing peace to the divided peninsula, experts said.

Pyongyang also appears to be upping the ante after Moon and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump agreed last week over how to deal with North Korea during their summit.

"Seoul and Washington shared the broad picture of applying maximum pressure and engagement in handling the North. But the latest test will likely lend support to the U.S.' tough stance while putting a dent on South Korea's aspirations for dialogue," said Kim Han-kwon, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

This image captured from footage aired by North Korea's state TV station on July 4, 2017, shows the launch of what North Korea claims to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, known as the Hwasong-14. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) This image captured from footage aired by North Korea's state TV station on July 4, 2017, shows the launch of what North Korea claims to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, known as the Hwasong-14. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

President Moon took office in May with pledges to take a dual-track approach of using pressure and engagement to denuclearize the North and reduce tensions on the peninsula.

He proposed two phases in resolving the nuclear standoff -- a freeze on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and their complete dismantlement.

Moon, supporter of South Korea's previous Sunshine Policy of engagement with North Korea, has tried to reach out to the country to improve ties which were strained for the past nine years under his two conservative predecessors.

The government recently resumed civilian inter-Korean exchanges to an extent that the move would not compromise the international sanctions regime.

But the North rejected the South's olive branch in protest of Seoul's support of the latest U.N. sanctions against it. The repressive regime also had a negative response to Moon's policy, saying that dialogue cannot go together with sanctions.

The latest Seoul-Washington summit was deemed as setting the stage for Moon to push for rapprochement as Trump supported Moon's aspirations to restart inter-Korean dialogue.

Trump also hailed South Korea's "leading role" in creating the conditions for the peaceful reunification of the two Koreas, said a joint statement issued after the talks.

But the latest test showed that Pyongyang will walk "its own way," sticking to its internal schedule for nuclear and missile development.

This photo taken on July 4, 2017, shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in chairing an emergency meeting of the National Security Council (NSC). (Yonhap) This photo taken on July 4, 2017, shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in chairing an emergency meeting of the National Security Council (NSC). (Yonhap)

Moon on Tuesday warned North Korea not to cross a "red line," condemning the North's latest act of provocation.

The South Korean president is widely expected to unveil his vision for unification and inter-Korean relations in Germany this week on the sidelines of a summit of Group of 20 nations. But he may be burdened to ambitiously make a peace proposal for North Korea.

The resolution of North Korea's nuclear standoff is also likely to be further elusive for now, analysts say.

North Korea seeks to win recognition as a nuclear state, a status which Seoul and Washington refuse to acknowledge.

"Resolving its nuclear issue through dialogue is likely to take considerable time," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University, said that North Korea would press the U.S. and South Korea with its claim that it is a nuclear state.

The heightened tension would also take its toll on Seoul's push for sports diplomacy. South Korea is seeking to coax North Korea into taking part in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics for better ties, but the North remained negative toward such an offer.

"Civilian inter-Korean exchanges including sports exchanges are likely to be negatively affected," said Kim at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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